Beauty and The Beast by Birmingham Royal Ballet is at The Festival theatre Edinburgh for four nights (Wednesday 13th March to Saturday 16th March) and is a lavish production that could play for many more nights in Edinburgh than the time slots in this current tour allow.
First created by choreographer David Bintley in 2003, this production draws upon many strands of this classic story and gives it a few twists along the way to give us a story that has elements drawing inspiration from other sources too, including a very Lord of the Rings type Woodsman (Jonathan Payn). Beauty and the Beast has many elements that are common to other well-known fairy tales, but it is always difficult to know where the original source material lies as, like so many fairy tales, the origins of this story are embedded in the folk cultures of many sources over a very long period of time.
Here, in this story, David Bintley stays close to the core of most well-known variants of this story as a cruel Prince out with his hunting party is turned into a beast and cursed to spend the rest of his life living as one in a fantastic castle surrounded by the animals he once hunted. His only route to salvation is to capture the heart of a beautiful girl. Belle (Delia Mathews), the daughter of a merchant, is destined to be that girl and here, the relationship between her two sisters, Fiere (Ruth Brill) and Vanite (Samara Downs) makes comparisons to Cinderella inescapable, but the fantasy world that David Bintley has created here makes anything possible. Ruth Brill (Fiere) and Samara Downs (Vanite) have two wonderful comedy parts to perform here and they are both obviously having so much fun here that the cruel edge to their characters is softened enormously.
With a production that has obviously had so much care, time and expense lavished on it, we have an impressive set that is full of atmospheric lighting and mood setting with huge contrasts between the major scenes. Beauty and The Beast is not an easy story to tell on stage as a ballet as firstly we have to get Belle’s father (the merchant, played by Michael O’Hare) to the Prince’s castle and then Belle to the castle, and this in some cases does mean that story telling has to be at the expense of dance time, but overall, a good balance is kept between the two.
Our story of course really starts when Belle meets The Beast and when it does, Delia Mathews and Tyrone Singleton (The Beast) are a perfect on stage dance couple with Delia Mathews so often being what every little girl (and many of the boys) in the audience imagine a ballerina to be; I think many parents will be getting asked to take their children along to the local dance class very soon. The role of The Beast obviously necessitates a lot of make up alongside the mask, and this must at times create a problem or two for Tyrone Singleton as he loses that all important element of facial expression in his performance. The fact that Tyrone can display so much emotion in body language is a tribute to his skills not only as a dancer but a performer. There were times though when some scenes reminded me a little bit of the mannerisms and expressions of those wonderful old silent movies. Perhaps one of my favourite aspects of their performance together was that this is very much traditional ballet choreography without the many hyper-extensions that have made their way into so many new performances. This is ballet with grace and style of movement, not ballet bordering on gymnastics.
There are some fine cameo roles here too and James Barton (Monsieur Cochan) and Laura Day (Grandmere) need a special mention here. Wild Girl performed by Yaoqian Shang is for me as big a part of this story as Belle and gave this story so much of its tenderness.
This production pretty much has everything you could ask for – wonderful music composed by Glen Buhr for the ballet and performed by Royal Ballet Sinfonia, and impressive set and costume design.
With Beauty and The Beast we are of course told that our Prince is reformed as a human being by the love of Belle, but I am left wondering if this is truly the happy ending that we all hope for. We are also of course dealing with that very old Grecian concept of what is beautiful must be good and therefore what is not beautiful (to someone’s eyes at least) must be evil, and it is amazing how rigid that concept has been adhered to over the millennia and how it still dominates so much of our contemporary thinking – even if it is a seriously flawed concept.
Review by Tom King