The Beauty of BATS It’s a big month for Disney’s 1991 modern classic. The high definition DVD package is finally re- released just in time for Christmas and, more importantly, lucky old Basingstoke has the opportunity to savour one of the first-ever amateur productions of the stage show.
I say amateur, but just wait until you see this. I can honestly say I have never been so blown away by something put together by Ray Jeffery and Neil Streeter and their team. It is a stunning achievement – ambitious, intense and so fully realised that, come the end, you’ll not fail to have a tear in your eye at the sheer wonder of it all. This visually spectacular extravaganza is the film come to glorious life on the stage of The Haymarket, and it’s hard not to gasp at the glory of the costumes and sets which lay the foundation for the storytelling.
When you have an enchanted candlestick, clock, teapot, teacup and feather duster, not to mention a hero who’s a little scary and hairy, it really helps to have such convincing outfits and back- drops. This ‘window dressing’ – if we can so express it – however, would be nothing without the actual actors, and they are, across the board, fantastic, the casting having been a masterstroke. Each person so resembles and inhabits their character that you really couldn’t ask for more from a professional company.
Emily Chambers, as Belle, is graceful and lovely, really coming into her own as the show progres- ses. Nick Brannam’s saucy Lumiere is lean and irrepressible whilst Zoe Tame’s delicious Babette and George Tinsley’s stuffy and adorable Cogsworth bring the house down.
BATS veterans Tracey Gonzato and Theresa Lunn shine as Mrs Potts and Madame de la Grande Bouche respectively, the latter causing me to near collapse in paroxysms of laughter. Mike Dyer is bumbling and cuddly as Belle’s father whilst Richard Bond does sterling pratfall work as Gaston’s whipping boy. Speaking of Gaston, Jack Juniper, who I first saw on a BATS stage in 2004, is just outstanding.
His posturing and preening hit the mark every time as he fails to woo Belle, making his two key songs – including wonderful new number Me – an absolute delight. Also super are his three giggly devotees. But of course, we can’t forget the main man, Stephen Westwood. His movements are convincing, his delivery spot on, and he’s hugely sympathetic, crucial when trying to play to a family audience. I felt absolutely heartsick for him at the end of his stunning, poignant solo If I Can’t Love Her.
It is very hard to see how this will ever be equalled, given that it seems to break the bar for amateur dramatics in Basingstoke. Bravo, BATS, bravo!