REVIEW: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (London Palladium)

This Tale as Old as Time is my favourite Disney film and not just because of the library…

So as the orchestra began, my heart was racing with anticipation and excitement.

And I was disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong, Matt West has created a good show and considering that this is a touring production, the staging (from scenic designer Stanley A. Meyer and lighting designer Natasha Katz) is fantastic. This is definitely where a lot of the budget landed, with excellent projections, lighting and sets. It does leave the stage floor looking a bit desolate (probably less of an issue in smaller theatres), but this is a minor point.

Act I drags on a lot and although there are some excellent performances, it does feel a bit like a pantomime, especially in the script’s humour. The costumes are exceptional and really bring the characters to life – naturally Lumiere (Gavin Lee) and Cogsworth (Nigel Richards) steal the show, but Samantha Bingley brings a Dawn French-esque style to the role of Madame and she is a delight to watch.

The song Gaston is wonderful but far too long and could quite easily be cut without losing its impact. Be Our Guest is a stunning performance, but again feels a little excessive in its length and more suited to a chorus line in 42nd Street than a Disney classic; some of the stereotypical French dancers also feel unnecessary.

The way that the character of Chip is portrayed is a little bizarre; considering all the adults are life size versions of objects, the decision to have just the actor’s head in a cup looks very odd. However Rojae Simpson is a perfect Chip – adorable and enthusiastic!

It also sounds like some of the songs for Belle (Courtney Stapleton) have not been accurately modified for her voice. Stapleton is an excellent singer but this is not clear until Act II when she performs a spectacular rendition of A Change in Me. Overall her performance is sweet – and her glasses are a nice touch – but she lacks the feistiness that makes Belle so appealing.

Shaq Taylor is an excellent – albeit less frightening and prominent – Beast, with his warm, rich voice perfect for If I Can’t Love Her. Tom Senior brings new life into the role of Gaston, and although he never quite feels that ‘evil’, the final dramatic scene between these two characters is well choreographed and designed.

Act II in general is much better than Act I. It’s shorter and extremely dramatic and poignant. When Sam Bailey sings Beauty and the Beast the auditorium is stunned into silence; the combination of the music with the costumes and choreography is divine and there is real chemistry between Belle and the Beast.

The music remains sublime and that, and the showstopper nature of the production, will be all that audiences need. Totally magical, but a bit self-indulgent.

Reviewed by Michaela Clement-Hayes