Beauty and the Beast casts a spell at the Birmingham Hippodrome

One of the most beloved of all fairy stories proved to be equally as enchanting when performed as a ballet, when Beauty and the Beast weaved it’s spell at the Birmingham Hippodrome last night. The latest production by the Birmingham Royal Ballet told that age of told of love conquering all with a mixture of menace and charm, and with an ending that was sublimely romantic.

The story is the one we are all familiar with, an angry violent Prince is transformed into a beast by a woodsman disgusted by his bloody pursuit of a vixen. Meanwhile, a down-on-his-luck merchant, faced with baliffs and creditors, is waiting for a fleet of cargo ships that are suddenly seen on the coast. Promising to bring his avaricious elder daughters all manner of jewels, his youngest, and favourite daughter Belle wants nothing more than a freshly picked rose. But the merchant’s journey turns from joy to fear when he is first robbed during a storm, and then gets lost. Finding himself in a strange house, he is fed by unseen hands and then roused to sleep. On waking, he discovers his cargo has been returned, and rushes home, but not before plucking a rose for Belle. Unfortunately the rose belongs to the strange, angry beast-like Prince, who demands Belle in return. The rest of the story is, as they say, well known history.

The lead roles are all uniformly excellent. Delia Matthews makes an enchanting Belle, her lightness of step and gentle mannerisms contrast markedly with her elder sister’s, who are all rapid movements and flouncing steps. The use of white costumes for Beauty mean she is an ethereal, pure presence who quite literally lights up the stage. In contrast, the Beast (Tyrone Singleton) is a dark and brooding presence. His frustration, virility, anger and menace is tempered by his gentleness towards beauty, and is able of showing both sides to the Beastly character. He is genuinely frightening when he attacks Belle’s father, and yet heartbreaking when he is dying from lost love. One scene in particular that stays in your mind is when he shields his face from Belle after seeing her beauty, it shows the Beast’s vulnerability and is quite beautiful and poignant.

The supporting cast are also superb, from James Barton who is hilarious as the piglike Cochon, courting both of Belle’s sisters in the funniest scenes.  Yaoqian Shang as Wild Girl, protecting the Beast who once tried to kill her when she was a the vixen is just lovely, especially when she takes on the mannerisms of the vixen, all coquettish and light of movement. Marion Tait is once again hilarious, this time as ‘Grandmere’, adding laughs to the wedding scene, which, in itself is one of the most delightful set pieces. The Raven, and the Birds of the Air, were also truly wonderful in the scene when they were transferring Belle to the Prince’s castle, there are elements of a Busby Berkley chorus line in this dance.

A mention must be made of the set, which is almost a character in itself. Constant scene changes are flawless, and the dark, haunting castle is awe-inspiring in the way it helps to create the mood. The Royal Ballet Sinfonia were also on top form, capturing humour, heartbreak and love with ease.

If you like your ballet dark, but with a sprinkling of humour, and a truly happy ending, then Beauty and the Beast is definitely one not to miss.

Beauty and the Beast runs at the Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday 2nd March. Click here for ticket information.

Evita at 40 – Still Sublime.

The iconic musical Evita came back to Birmingham last night, and showed why it is still a ,musical by which all others are measured. The Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice masterpiece is 40 this year, but the story of Eva Peron is still pertinent, and fresh in its telling, and with those instantly recognisable songs, and perfect lead performances, it remains one of the most astonishing pieces of musical theatre of our time.

Eva Duarte is poor, but is not without ambition, and sees the singer Malgadi as a way to get to Buenos Aires. Once there, she makes her way as an actress, finding both fame and notoriety amongst the cream of Argentinian society. Her rise to fame mirrors that of Juan Peron, the minister of War, and soon to be the most powerful man in Argentina. When they meet, at a benefit for Earthquake victims, they are instantly attracted, seeing the fire and drive in each other. They become a couple, and when Juan is arrested, Eva uses her fame to get the support of the woman and workers to not only get him set free, but to win the upcoming election. They working class and poor see Eva as a saintlike figure, Evita, but power corrupts, leading the Peron’s to almost bankrupting their once rich country, and Eva’s body is failing too, as a deadly cancer begins to hold sway.

As Eva, Madalena Alberto is astounding. Her voice is impeccable, and she makes Evita a character to both admire and sympathise with, especially in her later scenes. She just shimmers and shines when she is on stage, you can’t take your eyes from her, it really is a compelling performance of real power. She is ably supported by the charasmatic Jeremy Secomb as Juan, who invests his performance with both charm and a sinister malevolence, yet manages to break your heart with his performance during the heartbreaking ‘You must love me’.

Gian Marco Schiaretti is the perfect Che, the narrator and conscience of Evita. You can’t ignore the fact that he is beautiful (for everyone with a pulse this would be hard to ignore.). but his performance is one of anger, passion and ultimately despair. He is on stage more than the other leads and is so impressive and commanding, to say he lights up the stage is a cliche, but is also completely true.

The score sounds as good as ever, with ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’ and ‘You must love me’ being wonderful highlights. Evita is a dazzling, mesmorising night of theatre that is the personification of the word ‘Classic.’

Not to be missed.

Wed 21 – Sat 24 March

Click here for ticket information

 

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty

The Birmingham Royal Ballet returned to Birmingham this week with a spellbinding performance of Sleeping Beauty. Transforming the Birmingham Hippodrome stage into a Georgian setting fit for royalty, the dancers of the BRB created a magical and enthralling fairy tale that had just the right amount of menace and spice.

We all know the story of the Princess Aurora, gifted every one of life’s advantages by a stream of beautiful fairies. This was represented in a series of solo dances representing modesty, honour, joy, and, of course, beauty. The mood is bright and beautiful, full of sparkle and light. Unfortunately, no one invited the dark Fairy, Carabosse, and so she invites herself along, determined to destroy the occasion by placing a death sentence on the infant Princess. The moment that Carabosse entered, as danced by the wonderful Nao Sakum , is one that will live in the memory for a long time. She is a remarkable presence, truly frightening in her manner, stance and exquisite black costume. Carried aloft by her bat-like attendants and accompanied by a roll of thunder, Carabosse is the embodiment of fairytale evil. I must admit, I loved her. It’s a bit of a paradox, but her dark blend of charisma lit up the stage every time she appeared.

But the evil of Carabosse had an stunning counterpoint in the Lilac Fairy. Jenna Roberts plays this beautiful enigma, the fairy who had yet to deliver her gift, which turns out to be the gift of life. The Lilac fairy looks so perfect, think Glinda in The Wizard of Oz, and dances with such lightness and elegance that you could not fail to be enchanted. The contrast between Sakumo and the Lilac Fairy is exquisite.

tumblr_m6yb36ANxk1rpvemio1_500 The second act introduces a grown up Aurora, one with suitors, who pirouette the Princess around like a ballerina in a jewel box during the famous Rose Adagio. Aurora is Momoko Hirata, who is everything the role requires. Tiny and beautiful and so charming in her movements and expressions, Hirata invests her character with joy and grace, she is simply a joy to watch. She shows incredible poise during the Rose Adagio, the pirouette is perfect in every way.

The spindle is not attached to a spinning wheel, but hidden in flowers, a neat touch which means all the palace get to see the Princess fall into her deep sleep. It is at this point that the amazing scenery really comes into its own, with layer upon layer of flora and fauna helping to hide and protect the enchanted palace.

Mathias Dingman is the suitably handsome Prince who comes to the rescue of the Sleeping Beauty, transfixed by the vision conjured up by the Lilac Fairy. Dingman is athletic and virile in the role of the handsome Prince, and his solo dances were perfect. His rescue of the Princess through the power of his kiss set us up for an unforgettable finale, one that shimmered and sparkled in a way that left the audience gasping at its sheer beauty.

This classic Peter Wright production continues to enchant new generations. The music of Tchaikovsky continues to soar. All in all, perfection.

An enchanting ballet for all the family.

Wed 14 – Sat 24 Feb

Click here for ticket information