Beauty and the Beast
Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh
When it comes to making a Christmas show, Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre and Stuart Paterson, one of Scotland’s most acclaimed adapters of fairytales, should be a match made in Heaven. The Lyceum has a well-earned reputation for making classy winter shows which tell much-loved stories with just the right amount of yuletide razzmatazz. Paterson’s Christmas work is renowned for achieving a careful balance between respect for the original tale and narrative innovation. Sadly, like a phoney Father Christmas, this year’s offering (Beauty and the Beast, directed by Neil Murray) fails to deliver.
The principal problem resides in the writing itself. The great charm of the 18th-century French fairytale of La Belle et la Bête (by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve) is its very simplicity. In this version, Paterson’s penchant for adding characters and subtexts goes into destructive over-drive.
He opens the play with a witch (named Crackjaw) emerging from a well, and adds another couple of female warlocks (Crabhook and Banshee) before the evening is out. Then there’s Martin (a homeless orphan who lives in the forest), his dog, Billy (actor Malcolm Shields in a giant Old English Sheepdog Costume) and a goblin called Dunt.
If the script is over-loaded with pointless additions, director Murray (who is better known as a theatre designer) has created a show which seems uncertain of its identity. Some early moments of audience participation (“oh yes I will!”, etcetera) suggest, not least to the many children in the audience, that we are watching a pantomime; an impression further enhanced by the recasting of Beauty’s siblings as a pair of particularly lurid, Cinderella-style ugly sisters (who marry a couple of wealthy fops, who turn out to be Cockney robbers!).
However, when the show proceeds as a more conventional piece of theatrical storytelling, the cast seem unprepared for the inevitable calls of “he’s behind you!” from the younger patrons. Indeed, spare a thought for poor Ruth Milne (who plays Beauty); no sooner had she proclaimed her love for the somewhat cartoonishly-masked Beast on opening night than one little boy stole her big moment by yelling “kiss him, then!” across the auditorium (a moment which, despite Murray’s best efforts, achieved the biggest laugh of the night).
Beauty and the Beast can make for the most enchanting of Christmas shows. Guy Hollands’s gorgeous production at Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre last winter, for instance, casts an obliterating shadow over this lacklustre offering.
Until December 31
Rating – TWO STARS
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on December 6, 2011
© Mark Brown