This is no Disney version of the classic children’s story, Beauty and the Beast – it is a modern, sophisticated and very funny telling of a fable which provides as much content and meaning for the adults as entertainment for the children, writes Karen Morley-Chesworth.

Walking into the main house at Theatre by the Lake the beautiful set prepares you for the magnificent, imaginative and compelling presentation of Laurence Boswell’s version of Beauty and the Beast.

Beauty, played by Eleanor Sutton is a charming character. And her birth into a Parisian merchant’s family of three sons and two daughters is spectacularly funny. This is pure physical comedy genius.

However, this is a very clever and imaginative production. The script is beautifully crafted to bring the tone and diction of a 21st century youth culture to this classic tale. Beauty’s sisters, stroppy and yet sophisticated Veronique and the pretty, stupid Marie Claire are stars of this production, brought to life by Sarah Moss and Charlie Cameron. The lines are magic and the presentation perfection. These are the attractive version of panto’s ‘ugly sisters’ who make this production timeless and yet contemporary.

The brothers; Andre, Philippe and Emile played by Joseph Richardson, Gareth Cassidy and Jonny Weldon bring energy and humour. And the other roles they play within this piece are beautifully choreographed. This is a stylish production in every way.

Nicola Blackman as the Witch is magical and she gives a great performance as the mother, Helena.

Like many good children’s stories, the rich, happy family are dropped into despair by a parental death, loss of wealth and hardship. However, in this tale Beauty’s father Jean-Louis played beautifully by Max Gold sets off on a journey to recover their prosperity and along the way stumbles across the hidden palace and comes face-to-face with the beast. A gardening misdemeanour involving a red rose leads to the Beast demanding the merchant’s daughter in return for his life.

Ashley Gerlach as the Beast is magnificent, dropping down from the set and creating the horrific monster with a heart of gold. He shows the torture the Beast is going through trapped in the imaginatively designed exterior which keeps him a prisoner within his own world.

The themes of love and loss, honesty and authenticity run through this story, and this production uses dance and song to take the audience by the hand through a magical tale -with strong messages for young and hold to benefit from. ‘Don’t seek the approval of others, or you will always remain their slave’ warns the witch. ‘If you love me you will let me go,’ says Beauty.

Boswell’s adaptation of this classic has imaginative twists, and the introduction of the robotic servants provides a whole host of amusing scenes.

The presentation of the horses and the creative disfigurement of the beast are magnificent, as is the dancing expertise of this cast, especially that on Charlie Cameron in her various roles. The flamenco inspired choreography is dramatic and mesmerising. Her singing voice, and that of Eleanor Sutton’s are beautiful, and the ensemble singing a pure delight. This is a cast that sing, dance and work together perfectly to create a magical world.

The pace of the production ensures it keeps the attention of the audience, whatever their age. It is a thrilling piece of theatre – a festive family treat which is completely compelling, and entertaining.

Beauty and the beast runs at Theatre by the Lake until Saturday, 12th January, 2019.

Reviewer: Karen Morley-Chesworth

Reviewed: 23rd November 2018

North West End Rating: ★★★★★