The New Theatre Royal’s first in-house Christmas production since its re-opening in 2015 is a version of Beauty and the Beast that celebrates the piece’s theatrical history. It’s been 60 years since theatre last staged Beauty and the Beast and executive director Scott Ramsey has clearly done his research. His production harks back to Victorian times. There’s not a hint of a dame, a ghost scene or any kitchen-based slapstick.
Set in Portsmouth and the surrounding Hampshire countryside, and full of references to the region’s naval history, it’s a gem of an idea and it really works. Ramsey has added songs from little known musicals as well as the more familiar blend of pop songs and some newly composed numbers. The comedy, full of local references, is another real bonus.
The New Theatre Royal’s new, larger stage allows much more room for sets and scenery. In some of the big production numbers there are almost 30 performers on stage and the transition from Beast to Prince, is particularly well-handled.
There are strong performances all around. Kirsty-Anne Shaw, as Beauty, is both a strong actor and singer. Timothy Lucas is an energetic Frederick and Liz Garland uses all her experience as Madame Crummies. It’s a real ensemble piece, with everyone making an impact.
Being Alive is one of the show’s last songs and it sums up this theatre perfectly. This is a theatre with its eye on the future – the flags handed out to wave, near the end of the production, have next year’s Peter Pan advertised on the back.