Beauty and
The Beast

The roaring twenties meet early modern France in this Christmas adaptation of the classic fable, says Antonia Charlesworth

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A family show of considerable length and depth Lancaster Dukes Theatre’s original adaptation of Beauty and The Beast is recommended for ages five and up but any young children hoping for a faithful presentation of the 1990s Disney version will be left asking incessant questions like “Where is Gaston?”, “Is that candlestick going to come alive?” and “When will Belle wear her golden dress?” That’s not to say they’ll be disappointed however – there’s catchy original music from composer Kieran Buckeridge and laughs aplenty.

The Dukes has returned largely to the original 1756 Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont fable, in which a wealthy merchant with three daughters loses his fortune and ultimately one of his offspring to a mysterious Beast. Unlike the Disney adaptation however, which was set in early modern France, the action unfolds in the 20th century.

The 1920s-inspired design by Alison Heffernan makes for an exciting aesthetic with mostly excellent costumes and a set that suggest money wasn’t spared, even up close, in the round.

A beautiful dress for Beauty, played brilliantly by Natasha Davidson, really wouldn’t have gone amiss

Our protagonist Belle, however, is a modern woman with early forties styling (the Beast and his housemates have been enchanted for some time, remember) and an outlook to match. She is largely unimpressed by the Beast’s efforts to win her over, understandably unable to overcome the fact that she is his prisoner. Even on her willing return to the castle she makes it clear she is there because she was worried for all of her friends – who apart from the Beast are, in fact, humans-turned-inanimate objects as in Disney – and there is no great love scene. Parents who usually grit their teeth throughout these outdated and unhelpful fairytale tropes can watch at ease then, but a beautiful dress for Beauty, played brilliantly by Natasha Davidson, really wouldn’t have gone amiss.

The Beast falls for Belle because she stands up to and challenges him – we are told this explicitly, otherwise it might not have been entirely clear. His motivation for Belle’s affection never noticeably shifts from selfishly needing to break the spell put upon him – by a scolded ex-lover from his hedonistic party days, we learn – to genuine appreciation and love. Even when he is transformed into a man (which shouldn’t be a spoiler for a 350-year-old tale) he does little to redeem himself, continuing to allow his staff to pander to him and strutting arrogantly through his lavish home. Definitely more Jay Gatsby than Prince Charming. That, in addition to a distracting, rather than frightening, Beast costume meant that Gareth Cassidy’s part was, sadly, the weakest part of the production.

A strong supporting cast were genuine compensation though, with the dominating Polly Lister (Felicity/Lawyer/Statue) and animated Derek Elwood (Mayhew/The Clock) standing out for comedy value. The Dukes Christmas shows have a growing reputation, with high production values and strong performances, and this year is no exception.

Beauty and The Beast is at The Dukes, Lancaster until 2 January

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Beauty and
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