While we were enjoying Neverland at Lakeside Arts in Nottingham, my old drama teaching friend Natalie and her boys were enjoying Beauty and the Beast at Polka Theatre in Wimbledon. We didn’t realise the shows had something in common, the score for both was composed by Julian Butler.
Beauty and the Beast, Polka Theatre, Wimbledon
Framed in a beautiful set inspired by Art Deco design, the actors bring a freshness and energy to this classic story which carries its audience from land to sea and back again and through the surreal dreamlike world of the imagination and the ‘other.’
The relationship between timid Belle and her extrovert sister is well received by the young audience who can relate to the tensions and rivalry between siblings.
As the story unfolds, so does the set, which reveals ever more layers and secrets as we get closer to the Beast’s castle. Hidden trapdoors reveal sumptuous platters of food and drink to the weary guests and similarly, the Beast appears seemingly out of nowhere, adding to the sense of wonder and mystery.
There are some beautifully choreographed moments of physical theatre, such as Belle’s transitions between her dreams and imagination and the real world. The midnight hunt which Belle embarks on with the beasts is also visually memorable, as is the jumpy shadow puppetry which echoes the Beast’s discomfort in his animal form imaginatively.
Powerful music adds to the drama and atmosphere, enhanced by the set and lighting which transport us from the bustling streets of London, the sleepy Devon countryside to the eerily beautiful castle.
Subtle messages speak to the young audience through the drama, encouraging connection with deeper values than are often found in children’s theatre. The simplicity of the rose Belle asks from her father is juxtaposed with her sister’s contrasting desire for expensive goods and rather than feeling forced to not be materialistic, we naturally empathise with Belle, as her sister is portrayed as selfish, shallow and frivolous.
Despite some dark and possibly rather frightening moments for very young children (we were at the all age performance although it is billed at 6+), Beauty and the Beast is a rich and engaging piece of theatre which children will love. The happy ending comes as somewhat a surprise after all the drama and the rose petals falling like snowflakes from above ensure the ending is season-perfect.
Need to Know
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