Beauty and the Beast

October 27, 2021 | By More

★★★★★   Bountiful

Edinburgh Playhouse: 21 Oct – 27 Nov 2021
Review by Thom Dibdin

The roses are back at the Edinburgh Playhouse and they smell sweeter than ever – be they named Belle or Beast – in Disney’s newly reimagined version of Beauty and the Beast, playing to the end of November.

Tinkering with something as iconic as this beloved musical is a bold and audacious move. But choreographer and director Matt West has got away with it. He’s gone big on the song and dance numbers but kept a clear eye on the key characterisations which make it work on a human level.

Gavin Lee as Lumiere. Pic: Johan Persson

The basics are all there of course. This is, after all, a tale as old as time. Courtney Stapleton’s deliciously wide-eyed Belle is still the strong-willed, geeky girl in the village where Tom Senior’s “positively primordial” hunk, Gaston, has set his eye on making her his bride.

Beast, currently played by understudy Alyn Hawke, is a spoilt brat prince, cursed for an act of selfishness. He just needs the love of a good woman to lift the curse which has enchanted him and all his servants – who are gradually turning into items of furniture.

And it appears that while only Belle can save Beast, she must do so before the last petal falls from the single enchanted rose that he keeps in the West Wing of his enchanted castle…

refreshed

The music, lyrics and orchestrations from Disney’s movie remain (now there’s something you don’t tinker with!). What is different and, yes it does indeed feel refreshed, is the interpretation of them.

So, on an intimate scale, you have village scenes where the chorus members all create individual characters. Not just the three simpering girls in love with Gaston, either, but everyone from the sneering boulangère to the kindly Scottish librarian.

Nigel Richards as Cogsworth. Pic: Johan Persson

The village characters visibly develop across the length of the whole production, with a particular stand-out moment in the Tavern for the number Gaston. Louis Stockil is notable as Gaston’s side-kick, Le Fou, taking his pratfalls and already hugely physical performance up to new levels of excellence.

Where the village scenes are all about storytelling – and boy has West got that bit right whether it is in the dialogue or the songs – when it comes to the songs in the castle, things get a wee bit more abstract and, well, full of that showbiz pizzazz.

And yes, we are talking Be Our Guest, which starts big and just gets bigger. And bigger. And bigger yet again. All the elements you could want from a major stage musical are there – chorus lines, Busby Berkeley style rotating patterns, fan routines, psychedelic backdrops, costume changes, tap routines, acrobatic leaps and more costume changes as the principals come out to do their wee turns.

individual characters

All the time the hard working chorus are at the complete service of the choreography. They move from creating individual characters to being moving parts in the overall effect, slotting perfectly into Stan Meyer’s scenery, Ann Hould-Ward’s costumes and Natasha Katz’ lighting.

Which is not to say that they principals in the castle are any less individual characters. In fact, each one is completely dedicated to making these much-loved characters their own and delivers a performance which is as much directed to the front stalls as the back row of the upper circle.

Sam Bailey as Mrs Potts. Pic: Johan Persson

Sam Bailey is a perfectly mumsy Mrs Potts to Joshua Smith’s oh-so-cute Chip (Smith is one of five youngsters rotating the role). Her interactions with Samantha Bingley as the would-be marriage broker Madame give a real sense of the jeopardy the characters are in, should Belle and Beast not hit it off.

Gavin Lee’s Lumière just lives up to his name – lighting up the stage every time he is on it. He and Nigel Richards as Cogsworth working their double act to often hilarious effect, while Lee has a properly Gallic attention to romance himself, in Lumière’s relationship with Aimee Moore’s Babette.

These are not only character actors, though. There is real depth and emotional heft to their musical interventions. Speaking of which, Courtney Stapleton certainly has a set of pipes on her, bringing both power and emotion to Belle’s numbers – giving what could be the weakest numbers of the piece a strong sincerity.

Big on storytelling, emotion and spectacle, this is a proper five star treat for those seeking an evening of pure escapism.

Running time: Two hours and 30 minutes (including one interval)
Edinburgh Playhouse18 – 22 Greenside Place, EH1 3AA
Thu 21 Oct – Sat 27 Nov 2021
Evenings: Tue – Sat at 7:30pm.
Matinees: Wed, Sat, Sun: 2:30pm
Extra mats: Fridays  22 Oct and 26 Nov. 2:30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

Nigel Richards as Cogsworth, Sam Bailey as Mrs Potts, Gavin Lee as Lumiere in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Pic: Johan Persson

ENDS

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