SMS have delivered another beautifully crafted production with Beauty and the Beast. Popularised by Disney in the early 1990s, it is difficult for a new production to compete with the well-known film our generation has grown up with. Josh Hughes’ production was wonderfully true to the story and yet managed to incorporate devised elements that kept the performance fresh – a combination that any new production should strive to achieve.
There were strong vocal performances from all the principal characters. In particular, Dave Pegna’s solo in the second act was wonderfully tender and emotive. Throughout he displayed an excellent balance of animalistic anger and human tenderness to create the complex character of The Beast. Also, Rachael Aldridge’s rendition of ‘Tale as Old as Time’ was magical; her interpretation of the character of Mrs Potts as a cockney worked wonderfully and avoided overt caricature. Lumière (Sam Ashley) and Cogsworth (Oliver Ball) were perfectly compatible, and as a result their relationship produced highly entertaining scenes.
Yet it was Will Gamester, who played Gaston, who undoubtedly stole the show. Maybe it was the spectacular black tights he wore that gave him the push to deliver a performance that was both vocally and theatrically splendid. His scenes were well-received by the audience and after a while we could begin to see why the three silly girls were all pining after him. The best musical number by far was ‘Gaston’. It was visually spectacular and the enthusiasm of the chorus added to the inventive choreography was delightful to watch. It was refreshing to see same-sex couples dancing together on the stage not just in this number but throughout the performance. However it was somewhat disappointing that the vocals from the chorus were lost, especially because of the energy one could see they were putting in. However, the harmonies that could be heard blended well together.
The set was simplistic yet innovative and mapped the castle logically so that the audience could understand the action. Katy Richardson led the orchestra whose performance of the complex music was of a very high standard and so the production shone not only visually but aurally too; the two well-supported each other. Having said all this it was such a shame that at the climatic moment of the story, when The Beast transforms into the Prince, an over-use of the smoke machine obscured the audience from witnessing it. The characters on-stage did well to carry on regardless, however this did let down a production that up until this point had been almost faultless.
It is no wonder this production was a sell-out success as once again SMS have showcased the talents of Leeds students in all aspects of theatre. We eagerly await their next production, as it is always a wonder to see how each progresses from the last.