Review: Beauty And The Beast ****

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Leeds Grand Theatre

SOLOIST and Yorkshire lad Ashley Dixon has had quite a few substantial roles during his time at Northern Ballet, but none showcased his ability more than tackling the lead here – neat timing since Beauty and the Beast is arguably the company’s best new production in years.

Even attempting to rescue this fairytale from the clutches of Disney could easily have produced something naff – yet this is glorious.

And it’s glorious partly because of Dixon, as he has the muscularity and natural delivery to pull off what is a difficult role to translate into dance.

Without being clumsy or ugly, David Nixon’s choreography cleverly reflects the awkward animal movements this creature would inevitably display. Dixon executed them flawlessly and even opposite the exquisite Martha Leebolt as Beauty, there is no clash.

In fact there are truly mesmeric moments, particularly during the pas de deux between beauty and the beast, and between beauty and Kenneth Tindall as Prince Orian, the vain royal punished for his narcissism by being transformed into the hideous chimera at the heart of this story.

Curious then that the outfit created for the beast is strangely sexy. Not the usual image of an upright lion shoehorned into a suit, but a more demonic lederhosen affair, making the beast look simultaneously ugly and attractive (trust me on this one).

There is plenty more to rave about: the amusing touches here and there (particularly the comic manservant ghouls and poseur bailiffs); the score is phenomenal; the sets and the lighting are, in the main, pretty epic, and the overall atmosphere a judicious balancing act producing a family show devoid of festive schmaltz. Result.

To January 31, Leeds Grand Theatre, New Briggate, Leeds, 7pm, mats 2pm, £10.00 to £39.50, Tel.0844 8482700

Rod McPhee