I am going to start by admitting that it took less than a second to accept an invitation to go and see the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production of Beauty and the Beast. Why? If I’m honest, there were a lot of things I was curious about – the Beast in a leotard for one.
Watching ballet live is a dream for a lot of us, and arriving at Sunderland Empire on the evening of the 6th November, accompanied by a friend who was equally as excited as me, I was full of anticipation about what would happen when the curtain lifted. We began the evening by making our way to the Dress Circle Back Bar for pre-show refreshments. A glass of wine later, we made it to our seats and settled in just as the orchestra finished warming up.
The lights went down and a murmur of anticipation rippled across the room. The first sound we heard was the tinkle of piano keys. The curtain came up and there was Belle, stood at the top of a ladder with her toes perfectly pointed and arm outstretched, frozen while reaching for a book on the towering shelves of the set. The music lifted and the stage was brought to life – characters leaped across the stage, dry ice and clever lighting filled the stage with atmosphere and the plot twisted and turned from light-hearted, dreamy sequences to tense scenes, full of anguish. I was mesmerised.
As gripping as it was, this clearly wasn’t the story I knew or expected. Naively, I assumed that having watched the famous Disney adaptation of the original story as a child, I would be able to follow but this was dark and gothic-like – an entirely different plot altogether. Without giving too much away, there was a woodsman, a fox, two vain sisters and a (fantastically costumed) flock of birds, which represented key parts of the story – none of which I remembered from the film.
Slightly confused, I spent the interval consulting my programme and returned to the second act better informed. This original Russian folk tale had it all – dark magic, enchanted animals, good, evil, comedy and, of course, a love story. I laughed out loud at the comedy characters, who revealed a much more clunky, awkward and amusing side to the graceful dance. I admired the precision and control of the main characters. And I was swept along by each scene, which offered something new and unexpected to the one before. It was beautiful and spellbinding and demonstrated story telling at its finest.
If I had to sum the night up, I would simply say that I left with two thoughts. One: how did they manage to make a children’s story so compelling? Two: which ballet should I see next?
Beauty and the Beast is on until 8th of November. Book tickets and find out more about shows at Sunderland Empire by going to www.atgtickets.com/venues/sunderland-empire or call the box office on 0191 566 1040.