A night of traditional storytelling courtesy of director Melly Still and Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy makes for a comically gruesome alternative to other Christmas fare.
We are in the realm of the Brothers Grimm, whose stories – along with those of other European writers – have been retold by Duffy in verse that brings out the gruesome and the gore as much as the laughter and the love; when Bluebeard rhymes ‘wife’ with ‘knife’ you know what’s coming.
Director Still and co-adaptor Tim Supple have taken Duffy’s words and crafted a series of vignettes with an eight-strong cast and a musician who can play everything from a tin drum to a balloon. Using simple effects, elements of physical theatre and puppetry and a repertoire of wonderful facial expressions, these fairytales have been brought to life in entrancing fashion.
Following the tale of Bluebeard the serial wife-killer, we are told of a wife and a husband who swap roles with disastrous consequences, Beauty’s relationship with the Beast, the Emperor and his invisible new clothes, the domestic dog led astray by a nasty wolf, the second wife who kills her step-son and feeds him to her husband and the young girl given a gift by the North Wind.
Aimed at kids as young as eight, this is nevertheless not a short show – Still is generous with her stories – but the tales themselves are succinct enough to capture the attention without becoming dull, and the show consequently whips along at a rapid pace.
Credit for this must also be given to the excellent cast, not least for their remarkable animal impressions. By simply changing their physicality and adding a balloon for an udder or a pair of clogs for hooves, the cast create animals that are comical but also very effective. Jason Thorpe’s Toby the dog and Kelly Williams’s goat are particularly good. Of the rest of the cast, Jack Tarlton stands out for his performances as a Silence Of The Lambs-inspired Beast and the Emperor whose modesty is preserved – just – by a succession of well-placed props.
Part farce, part whimsy, at times dark and at others playful, Beasts And Beauties is, above all, a good yarn which will appeal to children and adults alike.