Review: Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Beauty and The Beast @ The Bristol Hippodrome
by Victoria Wyndham

Delia Mathews as Belle and Tyrone Singleton as the Beast;

Image credit: Bill Cooper

Choreographer David Bintley’s Beauty and The Beast is no Disney fairy-tale. This re-telling of the Madame de Beaumont’s original gothic folk myth not only sees the courtiers transformed into animals rather than furniture, but encompasses a much wider ensemble of characters which add depth and comedic relief to the age-old ‘girl-saves-boy’ narrative.

The flow of Act 1 is somewhat disjointed in its endeavour to ‘set the scene’, yet we are treated to visually arresting set designs by Philip Prowse; notably the huge mysterious gates which act as a backdrop and cleverly rotate to show the inside and outside of the Beast’s castle. The unusual special effect was adored by young-and-old alike, with the pitcher pouring water for the Merchant (Michael O’Hare) of its own volition earning audible gasps from those eagle-eyed enough to notice it. Bintley’s creative ‘Corp de Ravens’ which transport Belle to the Beast’s castle in Scene 3 produce stunning lines and formations despite fast and often complex footwork. Tzu-Chao Chou impresses in the principal role by combining grace and elegance with a magnificent command of the stage.

The act’s final pas de deux introduces Beauty (Delia Mathews) to the Beast (Tyrone Singleton), who dances with suitable power and animalistic quirks for someone confined to a mask. One even detects a hint of tenderness from him as the act comes to a close. Act 2 focuses more on this relationship, yet true romanticism was lacking between the pair as six months pass at the castle during the interval rather than on stage. Despite both Mathews and Singleton dancing technically faultlessly, this makes it difficult to feel emotionally invested in the characters, and the spark missing between them leaves the audience questioning why she finally agrees to marry him.

Tzu-Chao Chou impresses in the principal role by combining grace and elegance with a magnificent command of the stage.

Somewhat unexpectedly it is Yaoqian Shang’s enthralling portrayal of the Wild Girl which steals the show. Her effortless execution of the choreography and exquisite technique is mesmerising throughout the whole performance, and you find yourself drawn to her vulnerability and charm as a formerly hunted vixen. Laura Purkiss and Samara Downs as Fière and Vanité, Belle’s spoilt sisters, also deserve special mention for their playful characterisation of the roles, as does Marion Tait as the fearsome stick-wielding Grandmère.              

Overall, this was a spectacular production with beautifully intricate costumes, clever use of light and shade by Mark Jonathan, and an enchanting score composed by Glenn Buhr. The Royal Ballet Sinfonia conducted by Philip Ellis played magnificently and the elegant dancers were a delight to behold. If only there had been more time to explore the blossoming love between Beauty and The Beast, one perhaps might not have left feeling that the story’s exploitation of female kindness was somewhat outdated for contemporary audiences.

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