Catherine Bruton, local author and English teacher at King Edward’s School, reviews the KES year 7 – 9 production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast
The psychologist Bruno Bettelheim recognised the universal human need for fairy tales – for timeless stories that embrace darkness and help us find a way to the light. Walt Disney knew it too. Forget for a moment the Disney princess franchise – those highly flammable dresses in garish Haribo shades, because in Beauty and the Beast Disney spins a tale as old as time about outsiders, otherness and the cages we trap ourselves in.
There’s a darkness in this musical that shimmers beneath the golden veneer and makes the candy colours, the magic, the enchantment, the vivid wonderful flashes of comedy shine all the brighter in contrast.
This extraordinary, magnificent KES production captures that balance exquisitely. A rose-adorned stage, with golden bird cages, jelly-tot swirls of colour, and the theme of entrapment weaving its way through set and costumes. Exquisite performances that blended comedy with pathos; musical wizardry; dancing teapots and somersaulting roses… this production was a tour-de-force of KES theatre that had the audience whooping, weeping and stamping in the aisles.Not one, not two, but three Beauties were the beating heart of this production. Hepzibah Bevis was a wonderfully expressive Belle #1 – exquisitely lyrical in Belle and No Matter What, but no-nonsense when it came to brushing off the pesky Gaston. India Purdie was flawlessly enchanting and spirited as Belle #2 – a kick-ass Beauty who gave the Beast what-for then melted the audience’s hearts with Is this Home? Tallulah Stephens was heart-rending and melodically beautiful as Belle #3. Her delivery of A Change in Me was heart-stoppingly exquisite and – yes, I cried when she finally got her Beast.
Behind every great Beauty is a powerful Beast, and Ammar Hassan bought to this supremely challenging role a dignity and impassioned intensity that had echoes of Heathcliffe, moments of Mr Darcy, a splash of the Byronic (under that Lion King mane). He showed the depth of Disney, bringing a darker intensity, a deeper subtlety to the role. And when he started to sing you felt it in your gut – in your heart. Ammar won Bath Young Actor of the Year in 2016 and it was not difficult to see why!
But if all that lovey-dovey nonsense wasn’t your style, this production was also stomach-crampingly funny. Gaston and LeFou – what can I say? Comedy gold! Le Fou, played by Adj Moayedi, was Dennis the Menace meets Bill and Ted, lisping like a Brooklyn dweeb, constantly being thrown to the ground and pinging back up again. Gaston (Thomas Crawford) was a mixture between Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean style), Louis Smith and Adam Ant (and if you are not getting any of these references, kids, your cultural education is incomplete. Go Google them this minute). He was profoundly, gloriously and hilariously neanderthal in his wooing style – like a car-crash episode of First Dates – leaving Belle discombobulated but the audience in raptures. He even died in epic back-flipping style.
As we entered Beast’s castle, it was like a psychedelic disco version of Downton Abbey in there – with the theme of golden cages weaving its way through every hoop, sequin, corset and gilded ribbon. Lumière (James Carney) was Pearly King meets early Abba with a giant candle top-hat and… were they gloves? His delivery of Human Again in a glorious Hercule Poirot Parisienne accent was a tour-de-force.
Mrs Potts was what a good cup of tea should be – warm, sweet, strong and with that special ingredient that makes you go ‘Ooh!’ – especially when she delivered A Tale as Old as Time.
Of course the real magic in this production came from the ensemble cast – the magic makers, villagers, cronies, narrators, the bookseller, the wolves, the roses, the mirror – who sparkled, span, snarled, somersaulted, stamped, stomped, and sung their hearts out, bringing an energy to this production that was infectious, explosive, electric.