The lighting is dim. Leaves scattered across the floor. Stone statues stand crooked and shrouded in dust. This is the Beast's house, but for the time being he is a wealthy French aristocrat. It takes the curse of a witch to change all that.
Using an effective small cast of just five, the whole show was fluid and smooth. The scene changes were suave and when the actors altered character it was flawless. Even though the costumes were simple (apart from the Beast – on to that later!) they portrayed both the period in which it was set, and fixated a theme for the show.
With seating situated on both sides of the stage, the actors engaged the audience by circling the floor as they performed and sung.
Something that especially captured my attention about this performance was the musical interspersion throughout. A double bass, a cello, and a flute featured along with an accordion. All performers sung and played instruments and it lent the production sophistication and avoided the risk of clumsiness. Definitely tailored to a variety of ages, from pre-schoolers to pensioners and everybody in between, it was so much more than a classic winter pantomime.
The actors used the audience's imaginations to conjure the forest-nestled cottage; all that was on the stage were heaps of leaves and wooden panels suggesting the shape of the cottage floor. This was aided by two narrators who encouraged our minds to create images of the Beast's grand chateau, richly bedecked and situated deep in the forest. The creative design of the production is thanks to Stefanie Mueller.
For me, the Beast (Martin Bonger) stole the show. His character definitely appeals to younger audiences, interacting with children after the disastrous 'first date'. How could he win Belle's heart? Somehow he captured a bumbling charm in his endeavours to impress her, from making chocolate mousse to inventing awful jokes.
And guess what? Belle's famous long, trailing ball-gown was replaced with a bohemian alternative: ankle-length saffron netting with a crown of flowers at the neckline. As for the Beast's costume… By using an animal skin coat, claws for fingers and a horrific mask, he was pretty menacing. However, as soon as he began wooing Belle, the audience soon fell for him.
I absolutely adored this performance of Beauty and the Beast; it was a wonderful combination of music, wit and colour. By flipping it upside down and creating a wholly unique production, it still manages to retain that glorious fairy-tale charm.