Last night at 10:15pm I was strolling through the dark and stinky hot London streets, watching folks pouring out of restaurants, bars and theatres, a lot of them bound for the last train home, like me. I was filled with excitement seeing how alive the city is again, with all its lights glowing brighter than ever, laughter leaking through pub windows, and Abba squealing through speakers on the gaudy push bike chariots. The ravers and skateboarders on Trafalgar Square made me smile. I stopped to watch the comic busker picking on kids in the crowd at Piccadilly Circus. Even the American tourists screeching to each other to take photos in front of every big red bus that passed warmed my heart a little. Yes, this city is going through so much nonsense at the moment, but it’s woken up from two years of unexpected slumber in a big way, and I’m holding onto that win.
The world of theatre has woken up too, at last! I cannot believe how buzzing it was through Soho and along Shaftesbury Avenue then through Piccadilly and Strand last night. I was lucky enough to see Beauty and the Beast at the London Palladium, courtesy of From the Box Office, who kindly sent me the tickets in exchange for a review. That, obviously, in no way affects my opinion that this show was truly beautiful.
I had so many thoughts and feelings about this production, and fortunately, I had a fellow theatre lover/nerd with me in the Royal Circle last night – my good pal Charlie – so this meant we could discuss the casting, visual effects, directorial decisions and more as we queued for the bar during the interval. I’ve tried my best to condense it all into a few key points… Right, strap in!
The beautiful, ornate old Palladium was the perfect setting for this production. It’s one of my favourite theatres in London; I’ve seen a few musicals there, but also some marvellous gigs. The way the lamps on the circle and the boxes slowly dimmed as the doors closed and the curtain came up… that put us in the perfect mood for some magic.
The aesthetics and atmosphere.
We both loved the use of rather minimal set pieces – especially the enormous, gorgeous swirling details that swung onstage at varying angles throughout the performance to indicate that a scene was taking place in the Beast’s old castle. Sometimes they were suspended above the centre of the stage, sometimes around a staircase – at one point they were situated on the floor, the cast moving through and around them. Very clever. I actually found the use of such simple staple pieces of the set in the castle/woodland scenes was so good that it made the ‘small town’ scenes seem a bit too busy, with the shop fronts, bridge, and little cottage. The revolving stage was a real asset but not overused, and every floor piece whizzed on and off smoothly.
The use of projections was brilliant, too! I haven’t yet seen a show that uses them this much, so I was really impressed with how tastefully it was done. They made the musical numbers seem even bigger, and scenes that could have been complicated to stage (such as the wolf stalking/fighting scenes in the woods) came across incredibly effectively.
The whole ensemble/swings were slick as can be – the very astute Charlie actually observed halfway through that they seemed to have a member missing, which led to us checking WestEndCovers in the bar queue between acts, but it was covered so well, you’d never have known. A huge bravo to them for that.
Both leads were incredibly strong – it took a moment to get to know them properly as the show began, but by the end, we all loved them dearly. (I am also now obsessed with Courtney Stapleton’s van life Instagram, which I discovered on the train home)
Lumiere has to be the MVP. Charlie and I commented on how skilled an actor Gavin Lee is in that he is somehow able to be an optimistic, romantic, very camp lamp who had a reputation for womanising? He also didn’t disappoint with the character’s famous French accent. (note here – has anyone ever explored the fact that Lumiere was very French, the story was apparently set in France, but none of the other characters have the accent he does? Mrs Potts is a bloomin’ cockney! How is that possible? We need explanations and origin stories)
CHIP. Oh, goodness. That kid stole all of our hearts, and at the same time totally baffled us in his ability to steal scenes while being just a floating head in a cup on a tea tray…? Also (SPOILER ALERT) when his human self ran onstage into his mother’s arms towards the end, his line was completely lost in the enormous cheer from the entire audience. 10/10, Chip. We saw Zarian Marcel Obatarhe in the role last night, who I believe is one of four actors on rotation.
I really enjoyed the extensions of the musical numbers. I have never actually seen this show on stage before, so I can’t be sure if it’s the case in every production, but I definitely noticed that not only were some solo songs I don’t recall from the film included, some of the biggest numbers such as ‘Gaston’ and ‘Be Our Guest’ were fully fleshed out and felt almost feature-length. I’ve also never experienced rising excitement in a theatre quite like last night when Belle was being led to the kitchen and we were moments away from Lumiere saying his magic words… Kids and adults were on the edge of their seats, giddy with anticipation. Oh, and an interesting choice was that the interval didn’t immediately commence following the grand climax of ‘Be Our Guest’!? Bold.
Anywho, I could go on but I’ll leave some mystery for you.
The show is 2.5 hours long, with a 20-minute interval. Strobe lighting and fog effects are also used in a couple of scenes. There are signed, captioned, relaxed and audio-described performances available, FYI.
PS. I’d like to take this opportunity to inform those of you who somehow feel it’s acceptable to check your phones and respond to messages or scroll through Instagram comments during a performance… it’s not. It’s rude as heck and very distracting – not only for the folks in the seats next to you who will be blinded by the screen glow, but also for the brilliant performers on stage who are acting, singing, and dancing their hearts out for their audiences. And if you dare to do it while sitting beside me, a complete stranger, I will nudge you. Hard.