The seasonal show at the Lyric Hammersmith, is usually slightly different, not to say off-kilter, and this year’s offering, Beauty and the Beast, a collaboration between the Lyric and the Warwick Arts Centre, is no exception. It is rather harder, though, to say exactly what it is.
The piece is created by the Told by an Idiot company, which take its name from that line in Macbeth about life being a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Here, there’s sound, and a bit of fury, and just a pinch of significance in the story of young Belle following a course of tough love to tame the Beast and appease her dead mother’s memory.
Paul Hunter’s production of his own script (co-written with Carl Grose) mixes elements of crude pantomime with Gallic surrealism, daringly invoking Jean Cocteau’s great 1946 movie and then diverting into total silliness. But the result is jarring and unsatisfactory, as though the attempt at something truly beautiful is inevitably swamped in low-level “physical theatre.” The standard of execution is frankly humdrum.
Belle, played by the diminutive Lisa Hammond, is a curiously bossy and unengaging creature. She and her two ugly sisters, Bridget and Brioche (Hayley Carmichael and Nick Haverson), as well as their brother Boris (Dharmesh Patel), are promised whatever they request by their businessman father (Yolanda Vasquez, unconvincingly masculine even with a moustache), whose loss of a shipment of gherkins at sea, and all his wealth, is only a temporary setback.
Belle wants a rose for her mother’s grave. Dad gets entangled in the forest lair and has to promise the Beast (Leo Wringer in a mammoth curly wig and a blood-stained shirt) to send along his dearest daughter. Off she goes, attended by her big silly dog (Javier Marzan in red tights and oven-glove ears) to the Beast’s world of a Henri Rousseau jungle and a strange, de Chirico-style ghost palace with a climbing frame and a magic dinner table.
Michael Vale’s design conjures these elements without making anything coherent of them. Belle whizzes around in a wheelchair and is never frightened of the Beast. Her siblings sing a jolly song of “good riddance” at the start of the second act that’s reprised at the happy finale. Belle has been given a little black dress and she gives the Beast a great big kiss. But the magic, and the mystery, of their alliance remain resolutely unplumbed.