Theatre Review: Beauty and the Beast @ The New Vic

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Photo- New Vic Theatre

It’s that time of year again – oh yes, it is – and the festive season is once again being celebrated by the New Vic with another family-orientated production.

This year’s choice is Beauty and the Beast and Director Theresa Heskins has dug deep into the original stories to produce something a little different from the well-known Disney version. In this adaptation there is no Gaston or cast of animated artefacts. Instead, Theresa has worked hard to stay closer to the tale told by the original authors. The result is an enchanting production that captivated the audience – both young and old.

In this version the Warrior Queen (menacingly played by Polly Lister) has a life’s ambition to rid her lands of all opponents – especially the Goblin nation who she blames for all the bad things that happen in life. The Goblins – led by their Queen Rajnhildre (superbly portrayed by Danielle Bird) – regard themselves as mischievous rather than evil but are defeated in battle and their Queen is captured and presented to the Warrior Queen’s infant prince as a birthday present.

A humiliated Rajnhildre reacts by putting a curse on the palace that sees her opponent turned to stone and the son clothed in the skin of a hideous beast. And that curse will remain until the child can find someone to love him.

Fast forward and the beautiful Bella has been put forward by her father as a prospective bride in penance for the theft of a rose from the Palace Garden. Initially repulsed by the Beast’s appearance, she resists all requests for her hand in marriage. But as time progresses, she becomes more acquainted to her suitor and, aided by his servant Wheeliam, her resistance is gradually broken.

As students of fairy tale folklore will be aware the original stories were more menacing than the sanitised versions often presented by the film industry and the Director has ensured that there is both darkness and light in her production. Younger members love a touch of fright and there is just enough menace provided to entertain the audience and plenty of lightness to provide a counterbalance.

The lightness is provided by Rhyanna Alexander-Davis and Solaya Sang who respectively play Bella’s sisters Nigella and Prunella with the right level of comedic flair and also by Jonathan Charles who is perfect as the mechanical servant Wheeliam. They are ably backed by a talented ensemble and some haunting music composed by James Atherton and directed by Farhaan Shah.

However, the production will live or die on the performances of its title characters and their partnership. Potential audience members should have no worries as the pair have been perfectly cast and both Rhiannon Skerritt as Bella and Nicholas Richardson as The Beast put in faultless performances. Rhiannon is believable as a young girl progressing through her varied emotional challenges and Nicholas is impressive in his role. He is able to show the humanity under his skin and the personality to attract the love of another. His costume is beautifully designed by Lis Evans and the use of a voice synthesiser means that he can sound menacing without over the top vocals.

In a production of many highlights the ballroom scene is particularly enjoyable and the transformation from Beast to Cedric is well-presented.

In summary this is a production that will entertain all ages over the festive season and is more than worth a visit. With a running time of approximately 2 hours 10 minutes including interval, Beauty and The Beast continues until 29th January 2022. Contact 01782 717962 or tickets@newvictheatre.org.uk