It's a beauty of a role for this newcomer

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Getting the part of Beauty in Chichester Festival Youth Theatre’s Christmas staging of Beauty and The Beast came as a huge shock to Mia Cunningham-Stockdale.

She hadn’t even auditioned for it specifically.

“I went through the audition process with a few other people. I had to sing and do some acting and some role play and some scenes from the script. Originally I was targetting the role of one of the sisters. It was a really big shock when I got the role of Beauty. I cried! I was just so happy!”

Mia, who is 17 and lives in Bognor Regis, has been with the youth theatre for just over a year. She was in their production this summer of Grimm’s Tales at Cass Sculpture Foundation – a great environment for the promenade show: “It was just the most amazing environment.”

She is currently studying history, English lit and lang and drama, and will soon be applying to drama schools with a view to a career in showbiz.

“It is what I have always loved doing. I also did a lot of sport when I was younger, but I just love acting, dancing and singing.”

Beauty and the Beast, particularly with the prospect  of impressing drama schools in the New Year, looks like it is going to prove a major highlight, with the show running on the main-house stage from December 16-31.

Part of the fun for Mia is that she will be alternating in the role with Gemma Sangster, who is a couple of years her senior. When one plays Beauty in a particular performance, the other will be in the ensemble.

And no, Mia insists she won’t be watching Gemma and thinking ‘That’s my part!’ The reality is that she is hugely enjoying the experience of sharing.

'It is great because we can bounce off each other and help each other out. We are not rivals at all. Gemma is a bit older than me so has got more experience which is really great, and I am just really happy for Gemma as well that we both get the chance to do this.'

The show will be a new telling of the traditional story.

A foolish prince cursed to a life alone in a castle; a kind and beautiful girl who asks her father for nothing but a rose. One must learn to love and be loved in return, the other needs to realise there’s more than meets the eye... all reset in the 1940s.

'I think Gemma and I will probably both play the character differently. I suppose partly it is down to the difference in our ages.

'I think I see Beauty as being a bit innocent... no, perhaps more naive really. She has had a very sheltered life. She has always lived the simplistic life and it is lovely.

'This is very different to the Disney version of the story. It is set in 1940s London. It gives it a great setting for the narrators to tell the story. The narrators are evacuees. They are there to tell the story.

'It is a group of people coming together to share the story, a group of people coming together who are away from their own homes, and it is like they are all becoming one big family.'

And Mia just can’t wait to get cracking. She has loved the energy and the commitment of the rehearsal process, building up the show over the weeks of preparation.

'But really I am ready to get started. I love the rehearsals, but really you get to the point where you just want to show people what you can do with the production.'

Chichester Festival Theatre

December 16-31

cft.org.uk