REVIEW: Beauty and the Beast, Chichester Festival Theatre.

At its heart, Beauty and the Beast is a simple tale. Good wins over evil, the beast is tamed, the gentle-man in all of us is revealed.

Humankind has been telling and re-telling the story since long before it was first recorded as published in 18th century France.

Of course, it is the Disney version that is now predominant, and youngsters being taken to see this brand new interpretation from the Chichester Festival Youth Theatre need to be advised there will be no sign of Belle nor of singing candlesticks.

But none of that matters. Chichester’s festive production, written by Anna Ledwich with original music and lyrics by Richard Taylor, is captivating.

Set in war-torn England of the 1940s, a family of evacuees arrive at a stately home to find the incumbent children living with legends of a monster in the South Wing. Certainly, the noises the creature makes are frightening enough, made all the more worrying as the tale of Beauty and her enchanted jailer unfolds.

Along the way the way we are treated to dancing crabs, jazz-playing insects, an outrageously flamboyant French tailor, a cheeky racoon, and a messenger who – gloriously – insists on talking in Morse code.

But the tale always hinges on whether its Beast is authentically scary, and here Chichester’s costume designers have created a memorable monster – sufficient to keep the truly young and truly timid quiet in their seats.

As with many-a-youth production, the story can be hostage to the need to include as many in the show as possible, and at times this does lead to an over-complication of the plot. The final explanations of who, why and what could leave younger children – and perhaps a few of their parents – befuddled. But none of this spoils a fabulous romp.

At curtain down the exuberant ensemble received a well-deserved thunderous ovation. Or was that the roaring of the Beast?

Runs until December 31.

Ian Murray.