There are many different versions of the Beauty and the Beast story, with this Northern Ballet dance version having several twists of it own.
Perhaps the most surprising is the number of comic moments, from the knock off brands on Beauty’s profligate sisters’ shopping bags to the reversing removals and repossession lorry to the playful marauding of the Beast’s goblins.
At heart though this is supposed to be a love story – albeit one I’ve always found strange. Beauty is by definition attractive, and her love for the “beast” is rewarded with him being turned to a handsome prince – which rather undermines the “it’s what inside that counts message”.
The choreography of this production has its own inherent contradictions too. Kevin Poeung’s Beast can’t quite decide if he’s a heavy limbed primate or a nimble dancer with immaculate leg line when he jumps; he’s good at both, but the inconsistency confuses.
The good and evil fairies (Rachel Gillespie and Sarah Chun) often dance in a trio with the Beast’s manservant Alfred (Filippo Di Villa). They skilfully mirror each other’s movements – but their roles in the story are anything but equal.
When the power of their love finally releases Beast from his curse, the happy couple almost immediately exit the stage and we have no exploration of what you would imagine would be a slightly shocking revelation for Beauty. There is plenty of time however for other less crucial parts of the plot. Similarly, at the central couple’s wedding, Beauty’s father and sisters only just make it on before the curtain call, despite plentiful dancing by the 12-strong corps.
Duncan Hayler’s set includes a magnificent rose bed for Beauty, but also features some monstrous black snakeskin and chrome features that would have disgraced a 1980s Argos catalogue.
The score is something of a jukebox affair, with snatches of Danse Macabre and Clair De Lune amongst others, though it doesn’t always fit well with the action or the dance; particularly the early scenes in the Prince’s castle and Beauty’s house feel slightly disconnected from the music.
One unequivocal high point is Dominique Larose’s performance as Beauty, with clear lines, good positioning, and balanced characterisation.
Altogether it adds up to a production that is enjoyable in parts, but also slightly confusing: neither beauty nor beast really.
- Northern Ballet’s Beauty and the Beast continues at Norwich Theatre Royal until Saturday, November 25, 2023.