Birmingham Royal Ballet: Beauty and the Beast
- Kelly Apter
- 14 March 2019
Opulent ballet is miles from Disney but still finds space for levity
Despite their often mature themes, fairy and folk tales are synonymous with children's entertainment – and Beauty and the Beast is no exception. Perhaps that's why David Bintley's 2003 production partially falls between too stools. Philip Prowse's set design is truly magnificent, but often dimly lit and wrapped in dark hues – so none of the Disney-esque bright colours younger audiences might expect. Meanwhile, half the cast is wearing animal masks, and in one case a fluffy costume, implying a family-friendly approach.
There are moments of frivolity – in particular the marriage ceremony between greedy Monsieur Cochon and Belle's money-grabbing sisters (he can't choose between the two), which is filled with choreographic wit and silly costumes. Plus, of course, romance is in the air eventually when the spell is lifted and love conquers all. But mostly, Bintley errs on the side of drama, which his clever and hugely watchable movement captures perfectly.
A flock of birds carrying Belle to the Beast's castle builds with canny precision, as the beaked corps de ballet flutters from side to side; four huntsmen and a pre-transformation Beast crack their whips and sway as if on horseback; and Belle herself (on opening night played by a subtle but meaningful Delia Mathews) personifies kindness and caring with her every step.
Birmingham Royal Ballet visits Edinburgh so rarely, it's always a treat to see this superb company in action – and as Bintley prepares to step down as director later this year to make way for Carlos Acosta, it's good to be reminded of his intelligence, beauty and flair.
Reviewed at Edinburgh Festival Theatre.