‘Beautiful’ is the only word that really encapsulates Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production of Beauty and the Beast. From the moment the curtain rises on a girl removing a book from a stunning, ornately carved bookcase, the set is a feast for the eyes. The Beast’s castle, when we reach it, is hidden within layers of scenery: a forbidding rocky outcropping, opening out to reveal an ancient pair of statuary-topped gateposts, which in turn give way to great, gilded doors. When a dancer steps through the doors, the walls are opened to reveal a luxurious interior, its former glory now hidden away beneath sheets. Belle’s home seems flat and lifeless in comparison, but this is not the case. The fabric backdrop of a country house’s parlour comes to life under the influence of the Beast’s magic, and the majestic stuffed birds that sit atop the picture rail raise their heads and stretch their wings in a startling imitation of life.
And that’s only the set, which would be nothing, of course, were it not animated by the tremendously talented dancers. Ambra Vallo as Belle is charming, kind and intelligent, enchanted by the magical creatures that live with the Beast. Fortunately, we get a chance to meet the Beast before his transformation: in the opening scene, Belle reads of his mishaps and misfortunes as they are played out before her eyes. Danced superbly by Tyrone Singleton, we see a commanding and powerful prince, full of his own self-assurance, as he indulges in a hunt. Seemingly in an effort to encourage the Prince to empathise with the animals he would kill without qualms, a woodsman transforms the Prince into a beast, and the vixen he was pursuing into a wild girl with whom he must now live.
Angela Paul as the Wild Girl was the unsung star of the show. Bright and playful, yet touchingly devoted to the Beast, her role seemed to have more significance than it was credited with. This was most apparent in the moving pas de deux between the two characters in which she attempts to console the Beast over Belle’s absence. It seemed to be a narrative thread not fully realised by the director. The traditional nature of the tale, however, meant that even those unfamiliar with the canon ballets – Swan Lake, Giselle and so on – could follow the story without the need for a programme.
Even the most dedicated theatre-goers seem to indulge in ballet only rarely. It may seem that a love of dance is necessary to fully appreciate the production, but that is not the case. Ballet, like all forms of theatre, is just another kind of storytelling. If you’ve never seen a ballet before, BRB’s Beauty and the Beast is the perfect place to start.
Image credit – Bill Cooper