Beauty and the Beast

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Mary Brennan

five stars

Most of us manage to conceal our inner beastliness – in David Bintley’s astute, un-saccharine version of Beauty and the Beast, that face-saving secrecy harbours an affront to nature and will ultimately be called to account. Perhaps - as in the shape-shifting transformation of a callous huntsman Prince and his followers – that inner beastliness will surface in animalistic flesh, wild, conflicted and outcast by all. Be warned!

Countless versions of this Grimm fairytale – including stage and screen adaptations by Disney – mean the narrative line is familiar to audiences of all ages.

Nonetheless Bintley’s insights, and tellingly detailed choreography for Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB), invest the story with potent depths, not least in the character of the Wild Girl who – magicked by the Woodsman from endangered vixen into frisky little miss – shows boundless compassion towards the heart-broken, dying Beast who had once hunted her.

It’s the Wild Girl (a delightfully spirited Yaoqian Shang) who helps Belle to find her way to the Beast’s side, and again you sense Bintley’s own hopes for (some) Beasts to find redemption. Mind you Belle’s self-centred sisters remain beyond the pale, so greedily fixated on fripperies they’re prepared to marry the aptly named Cochon because he’s uber-rich.

Belle (Delia Matthews, an innocent in pure white) has her own journey of awakening here, transforming from naive, bookish dreamer into the woman who comes to love the Beast despite appearances – although, in a nice twist, and a superbly nuanced duet, she is a tad uncertain when the shaggy monster morphs into a handsome man (Tyrone Singleton, persuasively expressive in both guises). Their happy ending sees the gloomy, opulent reaches of Philip Prowse’s set brighten with the golden glow of a new dawn, while Glen Buhr’s score responds with a soaring rapture that rings out like a wedding march.

Utterly gorgeous. Across two fast-moving acts, Bintley – and BRB’s tremendous dancers – reveal the human truths in this fairytale. It’s a captivating treat – ending tomorrow.