Andrew Pollard's adaptations of classic stories are invariably highly ingenious and imaginative, usually dramatically and comically inventive and surprisingly coherent. In the case of Beauty and the Beast – A Space Adventure! there is no doubt about the ingenuity and the whole thing; in the hands of director Adam Sunderland and designer Sue Condie, is a triumph of visual imagination, but the narrative is sometimes bitty and confusing and takes time to involve the audience.
Anyone familiar with Andrew Pollard's children's plays – Heidi as performed by a field full of undisciplined goats, for instance – will expect him to come at the story from an unusual angle. And so he does. In the year 2525 (cue Zager and Evans) Scarborough has become YO11, submerged in rising water levels, with people living in raised cradles, carefully monitored in a sort of protective imprisonment.
Mother Ship has three sons, the two older ones totally self-absorbed and delighting in tormenting Beau, his mother's favourite, a rather timid soul who is only comfortable wearing a monkey suit! When Mother crash-lands on an unknown planet where the sole occupant is a girl who is really a plant, wrapped in a forest of her own limbs, the story of Beauty and the Beast can unfold, though heavily transformed.
The programme refers to "gender reversal" of Beauty and the Beast, but really Pollard is cleverer than that: both are Beauty and both the Beast. When Beau (the name a give-away) first meets Veriditas the plant-girl, each sees the other as beast or monster – and it's not difficult to foresee how they end up, when she is free of tendrils and he emerges from his protective disguise!
As the older brothers, respectively a precious talent-less artist and a preening mass of vanity, Henry Devas and Lucas Smith are amusing in the manner of the Ugly Sisters in Cinderella (more gender reversal) and Gilly Tompkins is a stalwart Mother Ship, an oasis of normality. Christopher Sawalha has a nice sincerity as Beau and, when Beauty and the Beast finally meet, he and Rebecca Tanwen, mysterious and vulnerable as Veriditas, are unexpectedly moving.
The script has many felicities – for instance, as plants have died out on Earth, flower names have become swear words which Pollard deploys entertainingly – but never really builds the desired momentum. However, every aspect of design - from the space-motifs and abstractions of the floor to the hanging swirling forest – impresses, as do Jason Taylor's lighting and the music plot featuring space-age sounds composed by Joel Sinclair.
Beauty and the Beast – A Space Adventure! continues at The Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough until 28 December.