review Viva’s Beauty and the Beast in Ely

There is no need to go to the West End for good quality productions. Soham-based Viva Company has got all that it takes to produce a sparkling and vibrant show packed with talented performers. Viva’s production of Beauty and at Beast at the Maltings in Ely filled the stage with a kaleidoscope of enthralling episodes as the familiar plot developed. The characters soon came to life as an array of ensembles swept across the stage or up the aisles, interweaving faultlessly with movements that captured the substance of the drama.  

Although I have seen many of these young performers appear in different productions over the years, it took some time to recognize a number of them beneath the cover of exceptional make up, costumes and most important of all, characterization. Their youthful shapes changed drastically in stature, movement, voice and gesture to become credible characters in this familiar story.

The Beast (played by Ralph Watts) howled and growled magnificently. Beauty or ‘Bell’ (Jessica Theobald) was a graceful, pretty and vehement young lady and with a strong affection for her inventive father Maurice (Oliver Ellerton). The developing drama swept the audience along as the spell that dehumanized the inhabitants of the Beast’s castle was eventually broken. The arrogance and vanity of Gaston (James Mellor) matched perfectly the highly entertaining antics and humour of Lefou (Daniel Bell). Lumiere (Joshua Schumann) made a deliciously sexy set of candlesticks with a perfect French accent; (I know this for a fact, because my companion was French). Lumiere’s  attraction to Babette (Naomi Rogers) certainly spiced things up and the straight-jacketed Cogsworth (Mikey Kowalczyk) was the epitome of frustrated officiousness. The thwarted attempts of faded opera singer Madame de la GrandeBouche (Ellie Gillett) and the amazing teapot (Mrs Potts played by Shellie Baigent) and her little Chip in a tea cup (Lawrence Whitworth) brought a touch of homeliness to the otherwise sinister castle. Other key contributors were the evil Monsieur D’Arque, Enchantress (Beth Henderson), Dance Captain (Kat Hickmott) and a bunch of ‘silly’ girls (Robyn Howe, Karina Locke, Lucy Bell, Susannah Martin and Debbie Olaifa).

The solo singing and choruses were first-rate and the choreography, stage movements and timing were impeccable. Gaston (James Mellor) had a particularly impressive voice. 

An excellent orchestra added to the overall impression that this was indeed a highly professional production thanks to the expert directorship of Dan Schumann and his team. Costumes, scenery, lighting, pyrotechnic effects and front of house were all magnificent contributions to a fantastic show.

It is no wonder that the three performances were fully booked. 

Aspiring performers should audition in March for Viva’s production of Godspell that will take part in the Edinburgh Festival from 7-14th August 2010. Contact: Martha at Viva tel (01353) 722228. For further information contact www.viva-group.org.uk

Rosemary Westwell

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