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Beauty and the Beast – Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Director, Choreographer and Costume Designer:  David Nixon

Music Arranger: John Longstaff

Northern Sinfonia Conductor: John Pryce-Jones

Reviewer: Val Baskott

The Public Reviews Rating: ★★★★½

The story of Beauty and the Beast needs little introduction. The elements of the story predate the eighteenth century versions that have distilled into childhood stories and films. It is a tale of transformations, false values, simple truths, inner goodness and the power of loving, good versus evil. Northern Ballet director David Nixon has created a new ballet accessible to all, a delightful divertissement that has darker undertones. Premiered in December 2011 in Leeds, it delighted last night’s Edinburgh audience with a visual and musical feast.

Duncan Hayler’s magnificent transforming sets and Tim Mitchell’s atmospheric lighting underpin the themes of the story spectacularly. The opening sequence in proud Prince Orion’s (Kenneth Tindall) court is danced in a vast hall of mirrors and shifting window patterns to Saen-Saëns’s Dans Macabre, a taste of things to come. Nixon and Anderson’s costumes also cleverly resonate with today’s celebrity culture and pre-occupation with material objects and high fashion.

Orion’s arrogance is his downfall; he ignores beggar women, a bad move, as she is La Fée Magnifique. Affronted she curses him for his discourtesy and changes him into the Beast. Her kinder sister La Fée Luminaire promises release if he can love and be loved in return. Deserted by the sycophants only loyal elegant Alfred (Hironao Takahashi) remains to serve the reptilian Beast (Ashley Dixon) in his distress.

Beauty (Martha Leebolt) is one of three sisters living with their father, a wealthy man. Her two elder sisters are vain spiteful socialites, mocking their quieter sister’s gentle kindly ways and love of books. Suddenly their father faces financial ruin, and the bailiffs come to gather all their worldly goods. This is wittily done and fun to watch, asset stripping takes on a new meaning when it is the designer frock you are wearing. Escaping to the forest, the four find a derelict tour bus which transforms into a make do shelter. Seeking food, the father gets lost, finds himself in an enchanted garden and while picking a rose for Beauty, encounters the enraged Beast He is released only on condition one of the daughters returns to live with the Beast. Although afraid of her fate Beauty creeps away to the Beast’s castle where she is welcomed with kindness, and although at first the Beast’s animal ways appal her she grows to love him and he her. All ends as well as it should in a fairy tale, with an impressive glittering finale.

John Longstaff has largely selected French music for this new ballet, cleverly adding for some items a recorded cathedral organ to the Northern Sinfonia’s live performance. Poulenc’s Concerto en sol minor pour orgue is a brilliant choice for introducing the Beast, and Ashley Dixon excels at portraying in dance the Beast’s shifting moods, feral nature, supreme strength and inner conflict. Debussy’s Claire de Lune is a delicate choice to show off Leebolt’s graceful and eloquent gestures

For me the sequence in Beauty’s bower in the Beast’s castle is the dance climax of the show. It is the most telling, a pas de trois with Beauty and the alter egos of Prince and Beast, against the background of a huge white rose hammock, the stuff of dreams indeed.

The only caveat in this excellent performance is that at the end of Act 1 the narrative between the father and the Beast is difficult to follow without reading the programme first. Last night in the final scene of Act 3 the orchestra and organ were very slightly out of sync, but this is nit-picking indeed in an evening of great music.

David Nixon’s vision for this piece realised by his extraordinarily creative team has resulted in a gorgeous visual and musical feast. Highly recommended for fairy story lovers of all ages.

Runs until 17th Mar 2012 and touring

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The Public Reviews was set up in 2007. We aim to review all professional types of theatre, whether that be Commercial, Repertory or Fringe as well as Comedy, Music, Gigs etc.