Beauty and the Beast

Date 17th March 2018
Society City of Plymouth Theatre Company
Venue Plymouth University
Type of Production Musical
Director Sam Pomeroy
Musical Director Mark Sidey with Laura Fox
Choreographer Jessica Emmett

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Author: Gareth Davies

Beauty and the Beast is a musical based on the 1991 Disney film of the same name, which was in turn adapted from the 1756 French fairy tale by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont.The Prologue behind a gauze had the young Prince and the Enchantress miming the story of how the prince and his household were magically transformed as a punishment for his arrogance and selfishness.  

The production was very well cast and everyone worked hard to create well-rounded characters.  The opening number was excellent; it was confidently sung and full of energy, which set the high standard for the rest of the show.The peculiar inhabitants of the castle were especially enjoyable; George Back’s humorous Lumiere was great - a role he clearly relished and Leah Philpot’s timing as Cogsworth was impressive - a very enjoyable performance. Both brought much humour to the show, with their comic characterisations. As Mrs Potts, the matriarch of the group, Anna Watson was a good casting choice; she has a lovely voice, beautifully featured in a lovely rendition of the title song ‘Beauty and the Beast’. Not easy to play a role which has been famously originated by Angela Lansbury and more recently performed by Emma Thompson!  Joanne Powell as opera singer-turned Wardrobe was good, as was Annabel Latham as a stylish, seductive Babette. Playing young Chip, Bethan Dummett gave us the important facial expressions required of this role, as most of the time you only see his face and she spoke clearly and confidently with a suitably young vocal pitch.

Looking as if he had just stepped out of the film, the excellent Sam Spears was perfectly cast as Gaston, a heartthrob to all the girls except Belle. Flexing his ‘muscles’ and full of his own importance, he portrayed the conceited young Lothario strongly. His song in the tavern with Le Fou was a particular highlight.In the role of Le Fou, Gaston’s sidekick, Jake Green again acquitted himself well, allowing Gaston to always shine whilst he played a fool and handled his rough treatment stoically. This comic pairing worked well together.The smaller role of Monsieur D’Arque played by Callum Todd was nicely done whilst Beth Chudley, Kerenza Jeffery and Amy Rossiter had fun as the Silly Girls, making the most of the opportunity to be just slightly OTT.

Maurice (Dhru Shah) was convincing as the eccentric inventor/caring, though absent-minded father. This is one of those tricky roles that is very important to the plot but can easily be forgotten.As Belle, Ellie Hunt found her own interpretation of the character, showing a keen independent spirit in her dealings with Gaston, and initially with The Beast. Her concern for her father, and her gradual change of heart towards The Beast toward the end of the show were most touching. Her singing and diction were good, if sometimes a little quiet. ‘No Matter What’ with her father was beautifully performed by the two of them. A lovely performance.  

The Beast is a complex role; he has to show the frustration and anger of the situation he has brought about by his earlier behaviour towards the old woman, who turns out to be an enchantress; then the gradual softening towards Belle, and lastly the change from Beast back to Prince. Sean Wills showed many facets of the character, including a subtle softening towards Belle, with slightly more human movement during ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and then reverting back when Belle left to help her father.  He was confident in his characterisation and consistent in his physicality. Clearly, he is a strong vocalist and I especially enjoyed his performance of ‘If I Can’t Love Her’ at the end of Act One.

The scene of the meal in the Enchanted Castle was brilliant. ‘Be Our Guest’ appeared to utilise every member of the cast, and was lively and disciplined, right down to the dancing cutlery and condiments! The whole scene was magical. One of my favourite numbers in musical theatre!

The dances were first rate.  In the ‘Be My Guest’ scene, especially in the fights between the wolves and Maurice, and then with the Beast they were very balletic - graceful yet portraying danger.  Dance was used to good effect too in the chase and fight scene towards the end. Well done to choreographer Jessica Emmett for more excellent work in this production.

The other members of the cast ensured that the crowd scenes were busy, interesting and the singing throughout was good.  It is a shame that there are so few chorus numbers in this show, as in this production they were all a great highlight. The ‘Gaston’ number, using tankards, was brilliantly choreographed and enthusiastically performed. 

The costumes were amazing and, I suspect, difficult to wear.  They all appeared well fitting and certainly helped to take the audience into the fantasy world of Disney.  The costume for the Beast enabled him to move, speak and sing properly, it worked well. A fantastic job by Laura Murray and team.

There are many scene changes in this show, all of which are important to the story, the audience know the film so well, and they have certain expectations.  The forest scenery, helped by good lighting made these scenes quite scary, especially for younger children. Furniture and props were moved by cast and/or costumed stagehands, and this helped with continuity and was well handled. I always like slick scene changes with minimal or no blackouts.

Technically this show - for want of a better word - shone. Compliments to Andy Martin, whose lighting design was superb, making full use of the facilities on offer.  It was well cued and helped create the correct atmosphere throughout.  The ‘If I Can’t Love Her’ number at the end of Act 1 was beautifully staged, with the Beast on the balcony with stars behind. In addition, the use of haze added to the atmosphere when used, particularly in the ‘Mob’ scene.  Sound design too was very good. Well done to Jack Warren – so often sound problems disrupt musicals.

Make up was very good and appropriate, as were the excellent props.

Choreographer Jessica Emmett devised some excellent routines, which were confidently executed by the cast.  Each number had been individually tailored to the scene, bringing energy and romance where they were required.  ‘Be Our Guest’ was stylish and lively, creating a wonderful party atmosphere. I smiled a lot.

As you would expect from a production musically directed by Mark Sidey, there was a high standard of singing from the whole company, with good, clear diction so that every word was heard; and all the songs were interpreted sympathetically.  Assistant MD/Conductor Laura Fox was firmly in control of the brilliant orchestra: it was hard to believe this was not a pre-recorded sound track but live musicians sometimes.  The orchestra and voices were well balanced, and we did not lose any dialogue in the underscored sections.  It was all most impressive.

Director Sam Pomeroy had obviously put much thought and hard work into directing and inspiring this cast to produce a show true to the Disney original.  Shows like this do not just happen; there are many hours of hard work in every department, with everyone working collaboratively as a team, for it to be successful. In many respects, this show would have been at home on a professional stage. A big well done to you all at MTG, good luck for your summer exams and I look forward to your next projects in the 2018/19 academic year.

 

Gareth Davies

NODA SW District 3