Beauty and The Beast

Date 4th July 2014
Society Sawston Youth Drama
Venue Marven Centre, Sawston, Cambridge
Type of Production Musical Drama
Director Mark Long, Gareth Furbank, Jackie Green
Choreographer Eloise Long


Author: Sue Hartwell

For this year's 11 to 12 year-old performers in Sawston Youth Drama's youngest group, the 7s, producer Mark Long and his team had chosen the one-act junior stage version of Disney's "Beauty and The Beast" as its production.  This was a good choice, giving plenty of scope for the youngsters to portray some rather unusual characters and bring a touch of warmth to this otherwise rather sad fairy-tale.

As artistic director, Jackie Green had created a delightful backdop of a village square, complete with mock fountain, which transformed into the interior of the Beast's castle, with insets to depict Belle's cottage and the village tavern.  There were thirteen scene changes during the one and a quarter hour performance and these were accomplished reasonably quickly by the stage crew, under the management of Neil Watson, although the lighting technicians had a few minor glitches and in one instance, in the tavern scene, the Beast's head-dress and cloak from the previous scene in the castle had been left on the armchair.

In this tale, the spell cast by the enchantress over the prince includes his servants, who are turned into items of furniture.  We were treated to some delightfully creative costumes - the maitre' D, Lumiere, as a candelabra, the butler Cogsworth as a grandfather clock, complete with Roman numerals and hour and minute hands painted on his face, Mrs. Potts, the cook, transformed into a pretty blue and white china teapot, her child, Chip, a matching blue chipped teacup, the maid Babette into a feather duster and Madame de la Grande Bouche, the prince's wardrobe mistress, into a French armoire!  Well done to Sally Whyte, Sue Pearson and the make-up team.  The villagers' costumes, too, were varied and colourful and in the servants number Be Our Guest the cardboard replicas of crockery and cutlery items worn as necklaces against their black costumes were very effective.  The only disappointment was with the Beast's costume; apart from the bison's head and horns, he should, at least, had had hairy bear's claws to cover his hands and make him more authentic-looking.

After a slightly tentative start, the performance moved along nicely.  Some of the principals' musical numbers, which are quite complex in composition for young voices, were a little difficult to hear clearly over the backing tracks and, at times, their dialogue was indistinct, despite the use of radio mics.  One of the most important skills needed for live theatre is voice projection and with additional work on this, these youngsters, I'm sure, will gain more confidence in their individual performances.

That said, I would like to particularly commend Rob Carter for his portrayal of Lumiere, with well-sustained French accent throughout his performance, Theo Burr as Gaston, well-characterising the tough and treacherous villain, determined in his plans to marry Belle, despite the flirtatious attentions of the Silly Girls, nicely played by Jojo Bull, Esme Guron, Nicky Middleton and Bonnie Robinson, who also doubled up as the narrators.  Ethan Sheridan did a fine job as Lefou, Gaston's side-kick and Rachel Atkins was delightful as Mrs. Potts, the title number Beauty and The Beast sung with real feeling.  Jodie Searle gave a very creditable performance as Belle, the heroine of the story and, as the Beast, Joel Davies portrayed well the tormented young man who, with the help of Lumiere and the servants, gradually learns the way, through love, to break the spell and become human again.

The principals were supported by a well-rehearsed chorus, producing a pleasing and harmonious sound, whilst accomplishing some well-executed dance routines, choreographed by Eloise Long.  This first-night performance by the 7s delighted the capacity audience, who showed their warm appreciation with well-deserved applause.