Beauty And The Beast

Spot On Productions The Point, Eastleigh Anne Waggott 1 June 2024

The beauty of musical theatre is that you’re always going to have your favourite shows – and it’s no secret or surprise that Beauty And The Beast is one of mine! So, having loved performing in it 11 years ago, I leapt at the opportunity to see it in all its glory in Spot On Production’s 2024 version.

As a much-loved fairy tale, Disney films, and long-standing musical spectacular, there can be very few people who are unfamiliar with the story. For the uninitiated, it’s the story of Belle, beautiful and intelligent, considered “a bit odd” in her rural French village, who longs for something more than her provincial life provides. With her father captive in a bewitched castle, Belle attempts to rescue him, but is instead captured by the Beast, a cruel and unfeeling Prince, changed into a hideous monster by an enraged enchantress many years before. The rest of his household are also cast under her spell, becoming various domestic items. However, if the Beast can learn to love and be loved in return, then the curse will end, and they will all be transformed back into their human forms. But time is running out; if the Beast doesn’t learn his lesson before the last petal of an enchanted rose drops to the ground, then the Beast and his household will be doomed to stay in their charmed forms for eternity.

As the familiar opening notes resonated from the orchestra pit, with roving lights across the audience seats, packed with an audience of all ages (from tiny tots upwards), I confess I started to get shivers down my spine with expectancy. That’s the power of music and musical theatre – it can evoke such intense memories and emotions. Of course, the double edge of that particular sword is can a current production live up to the prevailing recollections and sentiments that emerge?

In Spot On Production’s creation, for the most part, absolutely yes! From the very start, the audience is immersed in a delightful and magical fairy tale.

It’s a large cast to fit on The Point’s stage for ensemble numbers, but this was managed very well, reflecting the hustle and bustle of a market square, the hubbub of a busy tavern, and the grandeur of parading cutlery and crockery inside the castle; although I was disappointed that more was not made of the battle between the castle’s inhabitants and the vigilante villagers towards the end *. Abbie Jennings’ eclectic choreography brought out the best in the cast’s abilities – there’s always an inevitable mix of dancing skills within amateur theatre groups – while the harmonies and diction of the ensemble numbers were excellent. Alan Menken’s music is deceptively difficult – you might think it’s easy and simple “because it’s Disney”, but it really isn’t! It takes skill to navigate the intricate intervals and timing, which the Company (under Martin Bennetts’ first class musical direction) achieved very well indeed.

Alick Leech’s direction ensured the narrative flowed at a cracking pace, there was a dazzling array of costumes, and the storybook scenery, enhanced by superb atmospheric lighting and special effects, completed the aesthetically stunning setting. Kudos at this point to the stage crew, who deftly switched locations between the village square, woods, tavern and castle interior with aplomb. There were a few minor glitches this afternoon, but these in no way detracted from the production.

However, irrespective of all the excellent production elements, it’s often the focal characters who can make or break a show – and the wonderfully depicted relationships here amongst the strong principal lineup combined to make this a memorable and highly enjoyable production.

Izzy Li shone as a delightfully endearing Belle, with a radiant smile, commanding stage presence and excellent vocals, while Teddy Clements brought as much vulnerability as gruffness to his Beast, resulting in a more multilayered character than is usually observed; his pain and anguish in ‘If I Can’t Love Her’ was palpable and I was genuinely moved by his transformation at the end, testament to how engaging a character he created.

Adam Rush was the personification of the evil and sleazy Gaston, more a misogynistic monster than the Beast could ever be (!), and who showed the brilliance of heightened musical theatre performance with every gesture, raised eyebrow and posturing stance. Noah Clayton-Hart reinforced his growing reputation for musical theatre comedy as his bumbling sidekick, LeFou, with excellent charisma and a maturing voice, underpinning his aptitude for comedy.

Mark Ponsford and Jim Smith were highly amusing as the precise and conscientious Cogsworth and suave and outrageously flirtatious Lumière, while Holly Ind (Babette), Lizzie Bewley (Mrs Potts), Rachel Manning (Madame de la Grande Bouche) and Maggie Basinger (this afternoon’s Chip, a role shared with Amira Davies in alternate performances) all added strong and charismatic support. Mick Attwood totally charmed as Belle’s eccentric father, Maurice, and his rich, smooth vocal tones warmed the soul.

Congratulation, Spot On Productions, for a memorably entertaining and magical experience!

[* Editorial: due to licenced material cuts in recent years, not a decision by Spot On Productions]