In a retelling of the classic Beauty and the Beast saga aimed at small children, four players multi-role in an uncomplicated and pleasant way. The stage is covered with boxes and items wrapped in brown paper. The first thing they all do together is build the fabled castle where the vain Prince lives, which is pure Fringe theatre. The set is beautifully simple and uses cardboard for virtually everything, including a teddy bear, a toothbrush, and the horse that Beauty and her father travel on, which is supplemented by cardboard tubing.
A charming play full of heart and enthusiasm
Different forms of this tale have been told so many times that we accept this version without question. Here, Beauty has two vain sisters, and the rose from the original story makes an appearance alongside a magic mirror and talking candlestick, more akin to the Disney versions. In one hour, the story they tell is cohesive and works well.
The players are committed to their various roles and their enjoyment is carried to the audience. There are lovely set pieces, including one where they get tangled in a rope and cardboard telephone, and the children have to help Beauty’s father understand the names of the countries that he is being told on the other end, by shouting out suggestions. There is lots of audience participation as you would expect in a show for young children. These include finding certain items underneath chairs and contributing ideas, such as telling Beauty things that they like so that she can think of nice things and not be scared. There are also parts when characters travel and the children are asked to make the noises of the animals in the fields they pass, such as 'moo' and 'baa'. Plus of course, they have to help the old lady say the magic spell which transforms the Beast both ways.
The show may benefit from encouraging the children to contribute to the story earlier to ensure audience participation throughout, including having some backups prepared for quieter spectators. The children were very quiet in some of the sections of this particular show and needed more encouragement, but the actors confidence levels varied in terms of encouraging the desired responses. It might also be good to revise the spell to something simpler as there were a lot of words for small children to remember, which might explain the poor response when they were asked to say it.
There is a lovely piece where Beauty meets a mirror with three different reflections, played by the others. This really showed their skill as actors and story tellers and lifted the piece. In an otherwise undemanding show this was quite sophisticated and could appeal to adults and children alike.
This is a charming play full of heart and enthusiasm, and when the children could have their pictures taken with their favourite characters at the end, they were all beaming.