REVIEW: This Christmas show at Chichester is a real beauty

Beauty and the Beast
Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast

Chichester Festival Youth Theatre

Book by Anna Ledwich; music and lyrics by Richard Taylor

The innumerable versions of this 18th century French classic have all tended to fall into the trap of portraying both Beauty and the Beast as victims.

The latter for being cursed by a fairy and turned into an ugly monster; the former for being a prisoner in his mansion after her father stole a rose on her behalf.

This latest interpretation of the evergreen themes imbues the main characters with a lot more contemporary fire.

Here is a Beauty with real independence of spirit. Not for her dressing in fine ball-gowns. She chooses a suit when she is finally persuaded to part with her gardening dungarees.

In a performance that is as defiant as it is elegant, Mia Cunningham-Stockdale - who played the title role on the night of the review - owns the stage with all the elegance of a 21st century woman.

She radiates star quality.

The Beast (Hal Darling) is no mere consequence of evil sorcery either. His transformation from handsome young man to monster was self-inflicted and had been the result of his selfishness toward his father.

Darling, of course, not merely has to explore the complexities of the character he represents - he also has to manage with polished accomplishment the amazing puppetry of which he is part.

This is a multi-layered retelling.

This enchanted tale is set within the context of the second world war and evacuees sent to a formidable country mansion. The programme notes tell us that an old newspaper article about Glyndebourne opera house in Sussex was the inspiration for this - although there are echoes too of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - another moralistic fantasy tale with similar framing.

Like all Chichester Festival Youth Theatre Christmas productions, this one simply sparkles with music, costume, colour and terrific acting - from a cast who are the future of professional drama.

If the opening scenes step a little too timidly toward the main story, by the second half the whole production has burst into a joyous gallop.

There are too many great performances to list them all - but it would be remiss not to single out Crispin Glancy’s scene-stealing appearance as Kiki, who attempts to tempt Beauty into more fittingly traditional attire.

There are no end of challenges in staging a production on this scale and with so many young amateurs. Thanks to set designer Simon Higlett, costume designer Ryan Dawson Laight, musical director Colin Billing, and of course the amazing Dale Rooks as Director, it all appears an effortless breeze. No doubt, in this season of coughs and colds, Lemsip might warrant a credit too!

The 2017 production is the perfect signal for Christmas - what a beauty.