Stuart Patterson is a veteran name in forging Christmas shows, and his past credits include Cinderella, Sleeping beauty and Merlin the Magnificent. His version of Beaumont’s tale is a modernised and mildly darkened story in which a central part is given to an evil witch, Crackjaw (Angela Clerkin), who believes in her invincible powers. The shivering and utterly comic performance of the Goblin (Mark McDonnell), one of her closest servants, throws in most of the panto gags and pranks.
Beauty (Ruth Milne) is introduced as the Cinderella character, oppressed by her two ugly and vicious sisters, Hannah and Hazel, magnificently played by Nicola Ray and Karen Traynor. Apart from being nasty towards Beauty, they appear to be simple and stupid. Their unsettled sense of rivalry echoes the nonsense and absurd characters from Alice in Wonderland. Part of the panto lines are delivered by the sisters whose unhappiness is a direct result of their love for appearances and incessant greed for wealth. Patterson punishes this with the introduction of a pair of thieves who, under the disguise of “Rich Husbands”, rob them immediately after the marriage ceremony.
Beauty and the Beast (Andrew Rothney) scenes bridge with The Sleeping Beauty tale, in which the madly in love Beast is not an enchanted Prince, as in the original, but the boy Martin from the neighbourhood whom Beauty fancies. The role of Crackjaw is ambiguous: as the creator of the Beast (the monster), whose relationship between the two echos The Tempest’s Caliban and Prospero, she appears to seek after the power of the Beast’s heart in order to turn all hateful children into animals.
Apart from the strange fusion of tales and characters, the performance runs smoothly and manages to engage children’s attention and steal a few laughs. Neil Murray’s magic directing, simple but effective mise en scene, colourful costumes and spans of audience interaction, creates a complicated and delightful version of Shrek for the stage: a fairytale cocktail with panto elements. Admittedly, there were some occasional dull moments with the choice of set (the palace of the Beast is invisible), actors’ lines and acting, yet Beauty and the Beast still managed to bring a light dizziness and joy to the eye and the heart.
The play is performed at the Royal Lycem Theatre until 31st of December. You can see the trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=7nYb602AMr4