REVIEW: Rose Theatre’s Beauty and the Beast is a festive delight

The Rose Theatre’s annual Christmas show for 2021 – Beauty and the Beast – has finally been performed after a year’s delay due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Its storyline, written by Ciaran McConville, does not follow the traditional Beauty and the Beast story. This year’s show centres on 18-year-old Bella, played by Amelia Kinu Muus, who has played roles in West Side Story and Chicago at the Musikfestival Steyr.

Bella discovers that her father Francesco (Oliver Senton, who has appeared in Peter Pan Goes Wrong and Mamma Mia at the Prince of Wales Theatre) has been poisoned by a mysterious flower, and goes off to find the cure. This is when she first meets the beast (Stanton Wright).

The staging is minimalistic, with a single set reused and re-imagined for each scene of the play. This works to great effect through the narrator’s poetic and dramatic descriptions, as well as the innovative ways props are utilised to bring each scene to life.

Jacques (Tom Hardman) and Jasmine (Amelie Abbott) are teenage siblings who, along with their younger brother Rue (Alexander Forster), are able to interact with Bella and other characters as Jacques narrates the story in a surprising twist. They join Bella on her journey with humorous implications, which makes the reimagined fairy tale more self-aware.

Jasmine is a hilariously sarcastic addition to the show, particularly when Bella’s father is telling her to stay put and she shouts out that he is a ‘misogynist’, causing her older brother to pull her back to the side of the stage.

Jasmine and Jacques also have some subtle but still humorous and impactful moments during the scene of Bella’s eighteenth birthday ball. One such moment is when Jasmine initially refuses to put on a big pink ruffled dress to go to the Bella’s Ball, and when she intervenes for them to change the music to a more modern pop song.

Jasmine mirrors Bella in her love for her siblings and newfound friend Bella, but also provides contrast as she is more outspoken and prepared to take the riskier path, sometimes leading Bella to do the same.

When two boys approach Bella wanting to dance, Jacques offers to dance with the boy Bella doesn’t choose. It’s fantastic to see, in this brief moment, a same-sex pairing dance together. It represents acceptance and love as many Christmas productions may shy away from these types of moments – it’s a subtle moment that still had a positive impact on the audience.

Since the Beast is not a similar age to Bella in this version of the story, nor is he a love interest for her, it allows the play to better portray Bella’s journey towards self-awareness.

The journey to the beast and her father’s cure shows Bella finally gaining some life experience after being trapped in her own house by her worrying father for years.

Eamonn O’Dwyer’s music and lyrics provide songs that are used sparingly in the show, providing a powerful impact when they do feature.

One particular song that stands out is the solo sung by Bella as she goes to find the cure for her father. Her voice is full of raw emotion and the high notes are faultless, adding to the urgency and inner conflict that her character feels in that scene.

There is also the upbeat song about Bella’s friend Felice (Amy Lawrence) when the characters are trying to persuade Bella’s father to choose her to lead a rescue mission.

This year’s Rose Theatre Christmas show is a breath of fresh air, with no sign of the overdone pantomime tropes. It is a production that can be enjoyed by all age groups.

Beauty and the Beast will leave anyone grinning from ear to ear from start to finish. It has secured its place as one of the best Christmas shows in London, with its intricate and interesting costumes, powerful and cheerful songs, realistic dialogue and just the right combination of humour, theatrics, drama and social impact.

The Rose Theatre’ s original production of Beauty and the Beast is running from December 3 2021 to January 3 2022 in Kingston upon Thames.

The show is directed by Lucy Morell, who was the associate director for the Rose’s Christmas production of Hansel and Gretel in 2018.

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