Watch the wonderful ballroom scene here: http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=c8xYfiTT8D8
Belle lives with her merchant father and two sisters. He is desperately awaiting ships to return in order to pay off debts. When the ships come in, the Merchant sets off to collect the goods and reclaim his fortune. He asks his daughters to choose a gift. Two of the sisters demand expensive gowns and lavish jewellery, but Belle asks for a simple rose.On his way back, a storm blows up and the Merchant and his party are robbed of their cargo. The Merchant shelters from the storm in a seemingly empty castle but upon entering he is treated to a fine feast of food and drink served by unseen hands. In the morning, with the storm over, the trunks are again groaning with fine gowns and jewels. Leaving the castle, the Merchant sees a briar covered in exquisite roses and, remembering Belle’s request, takes one for her.A terrifying Beast appears, raging at the Merchant’s ingratitude for stealing the flower, despite his hospitality. The Merchant trys to pacify the Beast by explaining Belle’s simple request for a rose. On hearing this, the Beast allows the Merchant to leave unharmed – providing he sends his youngest daughter to live in the castle...
Bella: Ambra Vallo
Right. If you have the attention span of a newt and are incapable of sitting quietly for 45 minutes, cannot use a handkerchief to blow your nose, are such a Sad Fashion Victim that you can’t remove your hat, are so self-important that you must check the little lit-up screen of your mobile every 8 minutes for incoming texts, have had such fun shopping that you feel compelled to look through all your carrier bags as soon as the lights go down or are so low on sugar and E numbers that you need to stuff your face with crisps/sweets/takeaway and slurp Capri-Sun, then for your own sake, you Chav Scumbag, don’t sit anywhere near me at the theatre. Better still, stay at home and make a nuisance of yourself there in the privacy and comfort of your own home. Otherwise I vow I will cow you into mortified silence by hissing loudly at you to stop, and there is the distinct possibility of your receiving one of my special Pissed Off stares when the lights go up again. Got that? Good – now go catch up with The X Factor on your 50” widescreen and leave me to my theatregoing in peace.
*Takes deep breath* OK, having got all that off my chest, where its been bubbling away for a couple of days, I can now focus on writing this review, although I wasn’t able to focus on a great deal of the first act of this production for reasons stated above. Its annoying when audiences misbehave, and particularly so when the show is a charming, carefully constructed tapestry of shining gossamer threads. The purist in me was very glad to see from the programme that Birmingham Royal Ballet have chosen to ignore the milquetoast, bastardised Disney version of this story that children are growing up with these days and gone with the original Perrault version, with its tones of darkness and semi-gothic gloom. There’s no need for camp speaking clocks and Cockerney teapots when candlelabra, festooned with spider webs, self-ignite and the arms of chairs suddenly sprout hands and grab you by the wrists, while gilded flagons lift themselves from the table and pour blood-coloured wine into your goblet. Outside, a flock of blackly glittering crows perch in trees, and wraiths of mist embrace ivy-shrouded gates….. Scary this might be, but preferable to home, where the horrors come in human form…. Yes, I loved it!
What made this all the better was that it started off just like a pantomime, with a proper Prologue explaining how the Prince and his court became turned into animals and then a high comedy “set up the story” sequence with Bella’s two sisters falling over themselves to be vain and spiteful while the bailiffs stripped their father’s home. Against this, Bella really did look like a dewy white rose between two vicious thorns. And what was even better was the fact that the production wisely skirted round “Proper Ballet” until it was really called for, doubling its impact and making it part of the story rather than the story being part of the ballet. For instance, the story was entirely principal work until the end of Act 1, when the corps de ballet suddenly erupted onto the stage as a flock of ragged crows (caw de ballet, perhaps?) which carried Bella off to the castle. The music I found strangely forgettable, however, and although the sets appeared to be glorious, they were mostly so shrouded in gothic gloom that I found myself longing to see them in greater detail. The ballroom set turned out to be a riot of tortured gilt wall reliefs of gory hunting scenes backed by foggy mirrors which put me in mind of the Salon des Glaces at Versailles, and I would have liked to have seen the stage better lit so that the set designer’s art could be better appreciated, because whoever designed it knew what they were doing. The garden set was so dark that all I made out were columns topped with stags heads and the castle gates. When part of this turned into Bella’s bedroom, it looked so well-designed and intricate that I took my eyes off the action and concentrated on the set instead. A shame.
There were nice touches of humour all the way through, particularly from Bella’s two awful sisters and their argument as to which of them their equally awful suitor was going to marry, and in the ballroom scene, where the courtiers-turned-into-animals all danced in ways appropriate to the animals that they had become. An elegant lady rabbit, a proud fox and a boorish boar caught my eye particularly, and there was a good (uncredited) solo from an athletic hare. Their costumes and masks looked spectacular, but again the whole scene suffered from being underlit. The transformation scene was nicely handled without being overdone or mawkish, and the pas de deux between Bella and the Prince was spectacular – charming, elegant and wonderfully backlit with the dawn’s light streaming through windows festooned with ivy.
I thoroughly enjoyed this, and it’s a great pity that its running for less than a week and that audience reaction seemed somewhat muted. After having ingested all that chocolate, I would have thought they’d have had more energy to clap. Or maybe they were disappointed that they didn’t get any dancing teapots.