Monday, December 18, 2017

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
Chichester Youth Theatre at Chichester Festival Theatre
16.12.2017

No compromises in this year’s Youth Theatre offering. The deeper themes and complex emotions are fearlessly explored. And all the professional support – music, design, choreography and more – that makes Chichester musicals so special is devoted to the service of these talented young performers.
This is a poignant re-imagining of the fairy tale – scripted by Anna Ledwich, with songs by Richard Taylor. As the lyrics say in the final scene, “not at all at all what we expected”.
The core story is framed, and shaped, by evacuees, leaving London for the Sussex countryside, and billeted in a creepy old country house. Sinister rumblings, an off-limits South Wing, a strict housekeeper all make the displaced youngsters nervous – they devise a scenario, which they share with newcomers, and with us, the audience. And a game of hide and seek leads us in to some dark places and the fairytale proper.
The two title characters are superbly imagined, and confidently portrayed. Beauty [Mia Cunningham-Stockdale] is named less for her looks than for her virtue; she’s a feisty horticulturalist, the Cordelia who rejects a ball-gown for a gold lamé trouser suit. And eventually saves the Beast with a wonderful love duet.
He’s played by Hal Darling, inside an amazing exoskeleton puppet, magnifying his every move as his voice is manipulated. He’s genuinely scary but believably human, powerful but vulnerable.
There are many other memorable characters – Mr Villeneuve [George Bailey], tea merchant and Beauty’s father, his ugly-sister daughters and his dim twittish sons, Winston the pack-horse puppet, Dot D’Otter the messenger, Kiki the outrageously camp stylist [Crispin Glancy], Reg the Racoon. Not forgetting the refugee children themselves, who carry much of the narrative.
The show is packed with magic and marvellous stagecraft – big production numbers like the feast and the London sequence, and a wonderful library with avian volumes flapping overhead. Exemplary ensemble work, with every performer given a distinct character.
Beauty and the Beast is directed by Dale Rooks, with designer Simon Higlett, costume designer Ryan Dawson Laight, movement director Lizzi Gee and puppetry specialist Nick Barnes. How fortunate these youngsters are to gain experience in this professional environment, and how lucky Chichester is to have such a fantastic Christmas show … pantos, after all, are two-a-penny …

many of the roles are double-cast – the names here are those appearing on Press Night


production photograph: Pete Jones

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