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Mixed messages from Beauty and the Beast

PUBLISHED: 15:57 28 October 2009 | UPDATED: 17:14 16 August 2010

Beauty and the Beast - Derry

Beauty and the Beast - Derry

© Robert Workman

LAST week, Bromley s Churchill Theatre played host to the lavish stage version of Disney s Beauty and the Beast, writes Mark Campbell. Although ostensibly a kids show, the theatre programme pretended otherwise by featuring an in-depth look at the histor

LAST week, Bromley's Churchill Theatre played host to the lavish stage version of Disney's Beauty and the Beast, writes Mark Campbell.

Although ostensibly a kids' show, the theatre programme pretended otherwise by featuring an in-depth look at the historical symbolism of the rose, and the very nature of beauty and truth.

This neatly summed up my dilemma with the show - is it a children's pantomime (certain elements are clearly intended so), or is it a serious allegory about love conquering all? To my mind, it came over as an uneasy alliance of the two.

Being an adaptation of the award-winning 1991 animated film, it had to incorporate such facile elements as talking household items: to wit, a candelabra, a carriage clock and a teapot (with cup). Oh, and an opera-singing wardrobe.

These characters slowed the pace to a standstill and really should have been cut. Would the children have missed them? I doubt it. They were neither sympathetic enough nor funny enough to be of any real interest.

Richard Colson was the eccentric (read irritating) inventor whose daughter, Belle, ends up entering the creepy old castle and taming the savage Beast.

Ben Harlow managed the extraordinary trick of presenting the handsome, but dim, hunk Gaston as a living cartoon character. His larger-than-life facial expressions and mannerisms were sheer delight.

On the opposite end of the dramatic scale, Shaun Dalton was a hugely imposing Beast.

His deep, velvety voice and swishing cloak lent him a very charismatic air as he paced grandly to and fro barking orders.

His hirsute make-up and horns added to the effect, although I can't helping thinking that Disney's idea of the Beast is too aesthetically pleasing to be a figure of genuine menace.

As Belle, Ashley Oliver was a strong role model for any budding young feminists in the audience, but still appeared sweet and virginal against the masculine bulk of the Beast.

Their setpiece ballroom dance - sans huge chandelier sadly - was really quite enchanting.

Technically this was an eye-catching show, with atmospheric lighting and special effects (CGI projections and the like) giving it a real cinematic feel. The transformation sequence was especially impressive.

With a finale straight from an old Universal horror movie - villagers rioting with burning torches - this was a production that ended well despite a few longueurs on the way.

The next production at the Churchill Theatre will be Stepping Out by Richard Harris from 27-31 October. Tickets: 0844 871 7620.

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