Sunday, January 17, 2016


Disney Beauty and the Beast.

Director Jordan Best. Musical Director Susan Davenport. Choreographer Jodi Hammond.  Ickle Pickle Productions. Belconnen Community Theatre.  January 8 – January 23 2016                     

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Kaitlin Nihill as Belle. Adam Salter as The Beast

Ickle Pickle’s stunning holiday production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast will hold you in its spell as Jordan Best’s direction weaves its magic . Disney shows swathe you in sentiment, spiriting you into a fanciful world of laughter, tears and excitement , though ever secure in the knowledge that every good story has a happy ending. Disney’s version keeps some of the elements of Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot Villeneuve’s original eighteenth century story of an ill-fated merchant, whose youngest daughter agrees to live with a prince turned into a beast by an old woman whom he refused shelter. Although the rose remains a potent symbol, in the Disney musical version, Belle (Kaitlin Nihill) offers to exchange her freedom for the freedom of her captured father, Maurice ( Michael Jordan), an eccentric inventor.

KaitlinNihill as Belle. Pip Carroll as Lumiere
Disney’s version may be well known to many, because of the animated film, and my granddaughter, as we left the Belconnen Community Theatre commented “Belle looked like Beauty, but the Beast wasn’t dressed in yellow” It made no difference to her engagement and she sat enchanted through a performance for a  length of more than two hours, which  would have tested the concentration of any five year old. It is a tribute to the commitment, energy, characterization and sheer effusiveness of the cast that the audience sat rapt by the story, delighted by the songs and dancing, and absorbed in the drama, the comedy and the magic of a meticulously staged production.

Liam Jones as Gaston and Ensemble
A cynic may well shun the show’s moral lessons, but they appear more relevant than ever to a contemporary audience. Each scene becomes an education in proper behaviour. The list of Dos and Donts is as long as the corridors of the Beast’s gloomy castle. Accept people like Belle and Maurice who are different. Treat women with respect and reject the chauvinistic arrogance of Gaston (Liam Jones . Don’t be rude to people seeking help. After all, no one likes being turned into a Beast.  Don’t lose your temper.  See the Beast (Adam Salter) for what he truly is, a man tormented by the folly of his ways and in search of love, for only love given and love received can banish the old woman’s curse.

Fairy tales are flowers of the imagination, and Ickle Pickle’s colourful production under the inspiring direction of Jordan Best, blossoms with magic moments that remind us, as did Shakespeare, that Love is the true chalice of kindness, tolerance and generosity.

Pip Carroll as Lumiere. Amy Jenkinns as Mrs. Potts. Patrick Galen-Mules as Cogsworth
Ickle Pickle’s production is much more than a subtly played lesson in morality. It is first and foremost an action-packed adventure, featuring a host of fascinating characters including the village people, the dangerous wolves and the humans who have been turned into objects under the old woman’s curse and can only be released by the power of love given and love received. 

As a collaborative undertaking, Beauty and the Beast is an absolute triumph. Best’s sure-handed direction fills the stage with purpose and a dynamic creation of the popular tale. With the aid of choreographer, Jodi Hammond, Best breathes life into every moment on the stage, manoeuvring the large ensemble with skill and precision, without ever losing sight of the dramatic purpose  of the moment. Hammond’s choreography is lively, and bursting with fun including touches of tribute to Busby Berkeley, the Follies Berger and the cheeky naughtiness of the Can-Can. There is not a moment when the stage does not come alive with a cast, immersed in character, disciplined in action and filled with the joi d’vivre of a joyous company.

Members of Monsieur D'Arque's asylum
Visually, the production is a delight. Steve Galinec and Anita Davenport have created a magical Children’s Theatre storybook setting, and costume designer Mim Miley-Read has excelled in capturing the spirit of the original French period while  delighting in the costuming of the human objects, Lumiere,( Pip Carroll), Cogsworth ( Patrick Galen-Mules), Mrs. Potts (Amy Jenkins ), her daughter Chip (Zara McCann), Babette (Bojana Kos) and Rebecca Franks (Madame de la Grand Bouche).

Ickle Pickle does not employ mikes to amplify the voices and the true sounds of the natural beautifully capture the spirit of Alan Menken’s music and the popular lyrics of Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, under the assured musical direction of Susan Davenport. The lack of amplification did test the vocal power of solos sung upstage, especially by Salter’s Beast and also to some extent by Nihill’s Belle. However the ensemble numbers exploded with enthusiasm and the show’s hit number, Be Our Guest, with Carroll’s Lumiere leading the chorus, channelling it seemed the great Maurice Chevalier, was sung with gusto and bravura.

Gaston and the Villagers
To Best’s credit and as a reflection of her outstanding directorial talent, the characterization in the show was faultless. Every performer became imbued with the intention of the moment, and there were excellent performances from an enchanting Nihill, a dunderhead Gaston and his weasely offsider LeFou (Lachlan Burke). Carroll’s Lumiere lit up the stage and provided a pivotal presence to play off. It is not possible to name all the excellent performances individually, but every character from the silly screeching, lovesick sisters to the manic, deranged Monsieur D’Arque ( Josh Kirk) raised the bar of children’s theatre.

A decade of providing quality Children’s Theatre for the Canberra public has exceeded expectations with Ickle Pickle’s production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.  The company has provided an excellent training ground for young and experienced performers and there is no doubt that this production, brimming with talent, is certain to launch many of its performers into a bright theatrical future on both the amateur and professional stage. Audiences will be the poorer for missing this five star show for families.