The New Vic’s festive production of Beauty and the Beast was the dusting of magic we all needed to get into the Christmas spirit.
Based on the original novels by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, Theresa Heskins adaptation of the Disney classic we all know and love delves into the darker origins of the tale as old as time.
If you’re looking for a little less ‘he’s behind you’ and ‘oh no he isn’t’, and a little more ‘marry me?’, ‘no’ – then Beauty and the Beast is the perfect show, free of dames, fairy god mothers and ugly sisters. Oh wait, there is Nigella and Prucella – who are by no means unsightly, but are somewhat blinded by greed and gluttony.
Taking the beloved fable back to its roots, the description reads: “When Bella’s family unwittingly doom her to imprisonment in a castle with a beast, Bella believes she is there to clean; her sisters believe she’s about to be eaten. When she meets The Beast, what will happen…?”
We meet Isabella and her sisters as they hinch their way into the palace after the Beast supposedly hired them to clean – but we all know Wheeliam, a 21st century Lumiere, does all the cleaning anyway.
It transpired that Bella’s father had made a deal with the Beast to have her married off, to make amends for stealing a rose from the ‘monster’s’ garden, which leads to a near never-ending cycle of dining, and being asked for her hand in marriage – which Bella, played by Rhiannon Skerritt, consistently refuses.
The enchanting production is almost a crossover of Disney favourites and Game of Thrones, with Polly Lister’s Warrior Queen giving me serious Brienne of Tarth vibes as she is tormented by mischievous and meddlesome Goblin Queen Rajnhildre, wonderfully Welshly portrayed by Caerphilly-born actress Danielle Bird.
Rajnhildre casts a spell that sees the Warrior Queen turned to stone, and her young Prince transformed into a Beast, who towers over the rest of the cast on stilts. Bella – a sassy and strong female lead – finds herself trapped in the castle as the Beast attempts to learn what it’s like to be human.
The creative team have really outdone themselves with this innovative in-the-round performance, with incredible ‘mechanicals’ rather than teapots and candlesticks, with Wheeliam moving about the stage on an electric hoverboard which must have taken hours of practice to master the slickness and effortlessness with which he travels on it. In fact, Jonathan Charles playing the character was absolutely magnificent in his role, with his quick wit and cheery attitude.
Comedy was also provided by Nigella and Prunella, who never failed to make the crowd roar with laughter with their oh-so Gen Z personalities for such an 18th century story.
The set was phenomenal, with costumes that looked like they were straight out of Bridgerton. Doorways levitated from the rafters, magic appeared to happen before your very eyes, and Nicholas Richardson speedy on stage transformation from Beast to Prince Cedrick was astounding.
James Atherton, the musical director, did a fantastic job in his festive season at the New Vic. “There is a real culture of inventiveness here”, he says of the theatre – Europe’s first in-the-round. “And nothing seems impossible. Nothing is hidden and so the audience gets to enjoy the invention too. This is also the case for music, as the players are right there on stage in full sight.”
Enchanting, magical and mesmerising, the New Vic’s adaptation of Beauty and The Beast is simply magnificent, and makes for an inspiring story about what it means to be human that will charm audiences of all ages.
Artistic Director Theresa Heskins said: “Bringing new life to these classic stories is absolutely what we’re about at the New Vic. It’s a story about kindness; about love; about not judging people based on outward appearances: themes that feel apt for this time. And it’s about magic, which is exciting to me as a director.”
Beauty and the Beast takes to the stage at the New Vic from Friday, November 26, 2021 to Saturday, January 29, 2022. Tickets are on sale now, priced from £19.00 – £28.50. For more details and to book, call the Box Office on 01782 717 962 or visit newvictheatre.org.uk.