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Beauty & The Beast (National)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Katie Mitchell’s re-telling of Beauty and the Beast, scripted by Lucy Kirkwood and designed by Vicki Mortimer, is so chock-full of clever ideas and coughing up sleeves that the simple power of the fable becomes secondary to the presentation.

You shouldn’t expect too much in the way of beastliness, sensuality or sexiness in a show aimed at five-to-eight year olds, but what about the adults? And what about charm and tenderness? Low point is the lacklustre ruination of one of my favourite music hall songs, “Nobody Loves a Fairy When She’s Forty.”

The item’s delivered by Kate Duchene as a sullen assistant to Justin Salinger’s rather floppily executed Man in Pink, the garish emcee in top hat, high heels and fairy hair bow, who leers at the kiddies and conducts the invisible flea-pit orchestra. He flags up a slipshod shadow-puppet back story, explaining why Beauty’s father (Sean Jackson) stole the red rose.

There’s always something going on between the plush red velvet curtains, the application of a “thought box” on people’s heads by another assistant, Rabbit (Kristin Hutchinson), in a shock wig borrowed from Lucky in Godot (bad memories of Mitchell’s The Seagull, actors nonsensically wired for sound), and the altercations between Sian Clifford’s likeable, lumpy Beauty and Mark Arends’s wolverine, scraggy lurcher of a croaky-voiced Beast.

Forest tendrils climb up the rococo walls of the cottage, where a fire crackles in the hearth and the inquisitive Beauty pulls down the heavens to inspect a glittering constellation, a wonderful, too rare moment of real magic.

The Beast – diving around on mini-stilts and cloven hooves – is momentarily seduced, and so are we. But the mix of fairytale and music hall, in the end, suggests a lack of focus in telling the story, though providing an enjoyable theatrical splurge of sorts.


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