Whether it was blind luck or canny planning, Christleton High School’s choice of Beauty and the Beast for their end of year production couldn’t have been better timed to ride on the glittering coat tails of the Disney classic.
Hot on the heels of Emma Watson’s re-imagining of the 1992 Oscar-winning animation, affection for the ultimate opposites-attract love story is at a record high. This can bring its own set of challenges, however - people get very protective of a tale as old as time.
From the moment Belle (Alice Watkinson) appears you could feel the whole audience relaxing, she’s got this. We are told Belle is beautiful, caring, a bit different but ultimately bewitching - a tall order for any novice performer. But Alice more than rose to the occasion, emboldened by a pitch-perfect voice she glowed with confidence throughout.
From the first familiar notes of Bonjour you were on her side, ready to be swept along on her adventure, willing her to resist Gaston’s charms and her suffocating provincial life.
Alice more than held her own amongst a talented principal cast, who arguably get the funnier lines and more beloved songs, she managed this by allowing them to shine - an admirable quality that speaks of her generosity as a leading lady.
And what a principal cast.
The role of Gaston, self-appointed rival for our Belle’s affections, isn’t for the faint-hearted. It’s not a character you can subtly inhabit and build-up over time. Worry not, Michael Dean got the memo. He exploded onto stage with appropriate levels of male bravado and showmanship, and more importantly, kept the momentum up throughout. Never more so than in his stirring performance of his titular song, ably assisted by ever-loyal Lefou (Ben Rackham).
Incredible costumes and set designs lent a real heft to the enjoyably frantic village scenes and cleverly choreographed group dances gave everyone a chance to inject life into Belle’s plight to save her eccentric father (Jaden Crump).
What a joy it was when we finally met the gloriously ramshackle Mrs Potts (Maisie Spauls), Cogsworth (Daniel Brown), Babette (Tori Taylor), Madame de la Grande Bouche (Emily Stretch), Chip (Will Lawrence) and scene-stealing Lumiere (Archie Pytches).
All displayed the tricky comedy timing required to bring their parts to life, with Archie leading from the front with an assured performance alongside lovable side-kick Daniel. Maisie’s solo in Beauty and the Beast was simply spellbinding.
Staying true to the much-loved cinematic versions we had to wait patiently to see our beast. But when when the moment came, we certainly weren’t disappointed as Charlie Doyle swept onto the stage, confidently commanding the space around him in a manner that belied his true age.
Whilst it’s fair to say that being broody, tortured and misunderstood are among the daily emotions of most teenage boys, it’s another thing entirely to give the tender and vulnerable performance that Charlie pulled-off. A remarkable feat considering, unlike the majority of his cast mates, he remains masked until the iconic final scenes and has to rely heavily on using his whole body to convey every emotion. The maturity of voice in classics such as Something There backed-up his beast credentials.
Whilst individual performance rightly shone, the production was very much a group effort and at the stage regularly heaved with collective talent. From the menacing wolves to our trustworthy and mood-defining narrators, the care and preparation bestowed on each role was there for a delighted audience to see.
Never more so than in the challenging staging of the elaborate, Broadway-inspired Be Our Guest. Hats off to director Simon Phillips for inventive use of the space and dimensions available to him, if the cheer at the end was any indication, he certainly matched expectations.
Disney rarely robs you of a happy ending and this performance was no exception - a magical evening that showcased young talent at its best.