University Players’ Beauty and the Beast is “Simply” a Majestic Experience

(Katy Chapman as the White Witch in University Players production of Beauty and the Beast. costume design Esther Van Eek. Photo above by Melissa Stewart / Courtesy of University Players Windsor.)

While to many, the story of Beauty and the Beast might be a particularly well-known fairy tale, based on the Disney movie of the same name, there is a certain satisfaction in seeing some very prized actors bring the tale to life on the stage. In this case the stage at the University of Windsor’s Essex Hall.

Olivia Ridpath as Belle in University Players Beauty and the Beast

Actors holding Olivia Ridpath cast as Belle over their heads in University Players production of Beauty and the Beast during a dress rehearsal at the University of Windsor’s Essex Hall Theatre on Tuesday, November 26, 2019. Photo by Robert Tuomi / Eyes On Windsor.

There are some nuances in the University Players version in which the actors perform without a net, so to speak. Because the play is so physical, with its cast often airborne, a true delight for the audience, Director Monica Dottor tells Eyes On Windsor, it brought with it a number of challenges.

She is quick to define these as good challenges. Over five weeks of rehearsals, she and the cast worked to create a seamless production that is at times, using veils and other costume effects, highly magical.

Olivia Ridpath, Katy Chapman and Jamar Adams-Thompson UP Windsor Beauty and the Beast

Actors Olivia Ridpath, Katy Chapman and Jamar Adams-Thompson performing during a dress rehearsal of University Players production of Beauty and the Beast at the University of Windsor’s Essex Hall Theatre on Tuesday, November 26, 2019. Photo by Robert Tuomi / Eyes On Windsor.

One of the most significant individual challenges during the play is that of Jamar Adams-Thompson. He wears an elaborate costume as the beast. But despite being unseen underneath it all, he succeeds at presenting a character with more than a few commendable characteristics despite being a rather nasty person. Is it enough to win the heart and possibly even the soul of young Belle? She is the Beauty to his Beast, a role the sparkling Olivia Ridpath seems to be born into.

UP Windsor Beauty and the Beast cast member as a Jester

A cast member performing as a jester during a dress rehearsal of University Players production of Beauty and the Beast at the University of Windsor’s Essex Hall Theatre on Tuesday, November 26, 2019. Photo by Robert Tuomi / Eyes On Windsor.

First performed as a theatrical event, in an adaption written and directed by Laurence Boswell, at the Royal Shakespearean Theatre in Stratford, England, the UP version holds tight to Boswell’s interpretation. This includes his downplaying of the play’s surroundings, if only to provide a significant contrast to the elaborate movie version with its highly visual aesthetics.

In the UP performance, the stage is limited to three audience facing walls largely decorated in industrial tin painted a stark black. This is a rather brilliant stroke of theatrical majesty if only because the audience is clearly focused on the players and how they tell a story. They also tell it in a highly choreographed manner, often fused as one unit with commanding shared motions.

UP Windsor Beauty and the Beast cast members

Actors performing during a dress rehearsal of University Players production of Beauty and the Beast at the University of Windsor’s Essex Hall Theatre on Tuesday, November 26, 2019. Photo by Robert Tuomi / Eyes On Windsor.

However, it turns out the backdrop is actually revolving panels that open Belle’s eyes to enchanted objects, fantastic food and fanciful mirrored rooms, of a dreamlike consistency, which all exist in Beast’s palace. He is actually a prince in a spot of trouble and has been condemned to living as a beast until he proves he is a much worthy human.

For Belle, the cavorting through the palace is best described as a voyage of discovery in which she comes face to face with herself and learns more about becoming the person in her dreams.

All of this happens in the sparsely decorated set. There is a particularly revealing dining scene in which the stage is totally devoid of a table and chairs. The actors take to playing the dining room’s furnishings.

Another most pleasing scene revolves around Belle’s father, played with distinction by Haiden Lyle, in a discussion of his work as a merchant with shipping interests. The cast use paper ships to augment the scene and to illustrate the tale.

UP Windsor Beauty and the Beast Actors Olivia Ridpath and Haiden Lyle

Actors Olivia Ridpath and Haiden Lyle performing during a dress rehearsal of University Players production of Beauty and the Beast at the University of Windsor’s Essex Hall Theatre on Tuesday, November 26, 2019. Photo by Robert Tuomi / Eyes On Windsor.

In some ways the sparseness of the stage makes it well-suited to a UP innovation, what is known as the Relaxed Performance. This new experience in theatrical presentation is designed to bring the performance to those who could benefit from a limited sensory environment.

The idea for this rests with fourth year Drama in Education student Sarah Richards. In her role as the House Manager for UP productions, she has seen the complications a full sensory performance can bring to some audience members. By toning down the tale, eliminating some of its sensory apparatus, she believes the experience of watching a live performance can involve a wider range of potential audience members and enhance the accessibility of the play.

Actor Katy Chapman as the White Witch in UP Windsor's Beauty and the Beast

Katy Chapman playing the role of the White Witch during a dress rehearsal of University Players production of Beauty and the Beast at the University of Windsor’s Essex Hall Theatre on Tuesday, November 26, 2019. Photo by Robert Tuomi / Eyes On Windsor.

Beauty and the Beast opens Friday, November 29 with an 8pm performance at the Essex Hall Theatre on the campus of the University of Windsor. The next day, November 30, a 2pm matinee will be staged as a relaxed performance. Remaining performances December 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, & 8.

The show runs approximately 2 hours and is recommended for ages above seven years.

For more information please visit the >UP Windsor Beauty and the Beast listing on the Eyes On Windsor events calendar.

UP Windsor Beauty and the Beast cast members

Actors performing during a dress rehearsal of University Players production of Beauty and the Beast at the University of Windsor’s Essex Hall Theatre on Tuesday, November 26, 2019. Photo by Robert Tuomi / Eyes On Windsor.

Featured Photo by Melissa Stewart

Find out more about Melissa Stewart Photography at http://www.melissastewart.ca or on Facebook or Instagram.

Robert Tuomi

Article and Photos by Robert Tuomi

For over a decade, Robert has covered local news and community events. Initially as a contributor to CBC Radio’s local morning show and then as the long-time producer and host of CJAM’s The Rest of the News and as a journalist at the Windsor Square. A graduate of the Nikon School of Photography he enjoys illustrating his reports with what he sees through his camera’s lens.