Birmingham Royal Ballet’s original Beauty and the Beast was a tame affair with a one-dimensional heroine falling for a less-than-fearsome beastie.
Five years on, the same production has morphed into a terrific gothic fairytale told with passion and wit.
So what magic ingredient has turned bland into box office success? Could it be the changes introduced by choreographer David Bintley, including a major review of the prologue and giving the ravens a meatier role? Is it that the company – and largely the same cast – have matured into their roles?
Or was the opening night’s enchanted atmosphere inspired by the return of much-missed principal Robert Parker after a year out of dance? By all accounts his reappointment is a popular decision and as the Beast, and despite a big fur suit and latex mask – Parker performed as if he had never been away.
Elisha Willis, who is developing into an impressive dance actress, was radiant and relaxed in the role of Belle, perhaps a result of being reunited with her usual dance partner. She was indeed all that was good and beautiful against dark beastliness.
The ballet’s wow factor is the designs. Philip Prowse’s glittering jet and gold castle as the Beast’s lair is pure gothic fantasy, Belle’s family home a pantomime parlour. The moving sets, silently opening doors and props such as a chair that glides across the floor add a sinister touch.
The final scene as Belle and her newly-transformed Prince walk upstage hand-in-hand is as the closing of a book as the two halves of the set shut behind them.
Prowse’s costume designs are stunning too, from the spectacular animal-masked ball to the black satin and purple velvet-clad ravens. In contrast, Belle’s frocks have a virginal simplicity, while her greedy sisters are in over-the-top pastel confections of ribbons and lace.
Meanwhile, Mark Jonathan’s sophisticated lighting designs create a perfect balance between shadow and light, mystery and menace.
* Running time: Two hours, five minutes. Until Sunday.