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Beauty and the Beast review at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick – ‘excellent ensemble work’

Ashley Gerlach in Beauty and the Beast at Theatre by the Lake. Photo: Robert Day

Laurence Boswell has given his perennial favourite Beauty and the Beast another revision for this year’s Theatre by the Lake Christmas show, and the result is a pacy, funny, show with enough contemporary in-jokes to keep the most worn-out of parents switched on.

Boswell’s belief that what this 18th century French folk tale really needs to fly is some innuendo-prone comedy robots has survived into this latest iteration.
Christopher Honer’s production is not big on special effects and Abby Clarke and Patrick Connellan’s set offers a familiar shop-as-seen-by-a-child backdrop to much of the action, but there’s an eclectic edge to the costume, with a Beast straight out of the 1980s remake of The Fly, and a Witch whose attire owes more than a little to a Quality Street lid.

As a result, much of the heavy lifting in terms of generating atmosphere is done by the actors. This makes for a show with a particularly kinetic kind of magic. Honer’s direction ensures the ensemble brings focus and energy to even the most potentially prosaic what-happened-next narrative elements.

Sian Williams’ movement direction adds a brilliant otherworldliness to proceedings, with some inspired flamenco-influenced movement a particular highlight.

Nicola Blackman brings a classy self-possession to the Beast’s sidekick the Witch. Charlie Cameron and Sarah Moss’ take on Beauty’s Sloane-y elder sisters is hilarious, with Cameron’s dancing and Moss’ Robot Maid also highlights. Ashley Gerlach’s childishly vulnerable Beast makes us grasp just what Eleanor Sutton’s sensible Beauty sees in him.

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Excellent ensemble work ensures this classic love story grips throughout