Disney's Beauty And The Beast

The play of the book of the film of the story. With real people.
New Theatre, Oxford, 2007 and 2009

May 27, 2009
Near perfect as Family entertainment! This show offers magic, great vocals and some wonderful staging. 'Be Our Guest' suffers a little from not having enough bodies on stage to make it the spectacle it could be, but it gets close.

The Beast is suitably restrained so as not to scare the children too much, and his voice is outstanding.

Great stuff!

April 18, 2007
It was difficult to know what to expect from this adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, and I have to admit that to successfully bring this Disney hit to the stage felt like a somewhat ambitious proposition. However, the packed theatre was treated to what can only be described as a simply magical production. The cast, the music, costumes and technical expertise – it was all enough to leave the audience sitting stunned in their seats. Every member of the cast deserves a mention and special praise must go to the show's two protagonists, Belle and the Beast, played by Ashley Oliver and Matthew Cammelle respectively. It was Ben Harlow, however, playing the muscular and self-absorbed Gaston, who stole the show: his satirical cheesy grin and double-act with the compliant Lefour (played by the indefatigable Mark Connell) had the audience laughing throughout.

Even if the fairy-tale plot is a little tired for adult viewers (who, I might add, made up the vast majority of the audience), the play is worth watching for the costumes alone. Never before had I thought it possible to have people dress up as plates, cutlery, candlesticks and bottle-openers, and the sight of walking kitchen appliances on stage is enough to leave you wondering if there was something in those sweets you bought at the interval! The same is true of some of the technical stunts and, without giving too much away, the ‘transformation’ at the end is simply mesmerising. With tonight being the first performance, this musical can only get even more impressive, but with the production only running until the end of the week, I would recommend booking your ticket now to avoid missing out on a truly fantastic evening.
For those of you who have been cursed by an ambivalent enchantress who, in taking exception to your inhospitality, has turned you into an hirsute beast, causing you to hide away in your dark castle in the middle of some dark woods with only your dark thoughts for company, and therefore have no idea of this show’s plot, here goes:

A Prince sprouts lots of hair after being cursed by an ambivalent enchantress, who takes exception to his inhospitality. He therefore hides away in his dark castle in the middle of some dark woods with only his dark thoughts for company, although he does have some idea of the plot. His only chance for redemption is to find true love, which proves difficult at a time when Gillette were still only producing single blade razors.

Daydreamer Belle leads something of a parallel existence, shunned by her peer group because she is clever and reads books, which is no way for a young lady to be. Despite this, narcissistic hunter Gaston, who would have made love to himself if it hadn’t been a family show, views her as a challenge and attempts to win her affections. However, through a series of unfortunate narrative events, Belle finds herself in the custody of the Beast, and eventually discovers who the REAL monster is.

Being Disney, Beauty and the Beast is a lavish production, which makes full use of its huge budget. Utilising the depth of the stage, the action is played out on well-designed sets that twist, turn, revolve, and backflip whilst being permanently enveloped by dry ice. Many of the costumes are taken straight from the movie, as are the songs, which are performed with great gusto. As much as this is to be expected, there was much heart in the performance, particularly from Shaun Dalton’s Beast, whose anguish washed over the audience like a flood of tears.

With a supporting cast of anthropomorphised domestic bric-a-brac, including an amorous candlestick (!!), moustachioed carriage clock, and a gymnastic rug, it’s the kind of show you can’t help but enjoy. It’s big, bold and brash, but with a simple message beneath the impressive aesthetics. Everybody knows the songs; so can sing and/or clap along, and the Beast is scary enough to keep the kids interested whilst their parents are embarrassing them. As my Mum summarised, ‘It’s just like the pantomime, but without the smut!’
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