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Beauty and the Beast

Told By An Idiot
Lyric Hammersmith
(2007)

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The Lyric Hammersmith's Christmas production this year is Beauty and the Beast bought to us by the theatre company Told by an Idiot.

This classic fairy tale has been told in many different styles over the years. Beauty's father is returning from a trip when he gets into trouble; cold and tired he takes refuge in a magnificent palace that he stumbles upon. Whilst there he catches sight of a single red rose which he takes as a gift for Beauty. This is perceived as an act of disrespect and ingratitude by the beast who punishes Beauty's father by insisting that either himself or Beauty return to the palace to stay with him for eternity. Beauty joins the beast and finds that in time, despite his physical appearance, she grows to love the beast for his beauty that lies within.

"One of the most realistic of the famous fairytales", Beauty and the Beast depicts a love that arises from friendship rather than physical attraction.

One cannot discuss Told by an Idiot's production without acknowledging Lisa Hammond's performance as Belle. By casting an actress of diminutive height who at many times throughout the production is aided by a wheelchair they have immediately challenged society's perception of beauty. The audience are not being presented with the Barbie doll image to which we have become accustomed.

Hammond's almost too naturalistic style of acting throughout, however, tended to clash with rather than complement that of some of the other actors, mainly that of the two sisters; Bridget (Hayley Carmichael) and Brioche (Nick Haverson). The two "ugly" sisters' farcical performance was received with huge delight by the predominantly child audience and without a doubt this is a show for children. This is why I found it baffling when we were presented with many moments which were completely designed to appeal to the adult audience. This was particularly evident in the scene which centred around a Marks & Spencer's parody of their "sexverts" for selling food.

With pantomime we are used to - in fact we expect - the saucy asides, but this most certainly was not a pantomime and yet the performance was littered with adult references, which were not so much asides as sometimes the crux of the scene.

The juxtaposition throughout of naturalism with farce with surrealism (reminiscent at times of a David Lynch film) was confusing; it was hard to gauge the intention of this production. Perhaps it was a deliberate choice; the company's ethos is to "devise theatre through play which is accessible to all". However by trying to appeal to everyone the result at times is in fact alienating. As an adult I did not appreciate the constant popular culture references such as She by Elvis Costello playing every time the dead mother was mentioned.

Told by an Idiot underestimate an adult's enjoyment of a children's show and the children in the audience were certainly more appreciative when they understood what was happening.

Nevertheless some performances adopted the perfect tone to appeal to children. Javier Marzan (Kronenbourg, the family dog) who guided us through the tale was captivating throughout. He was the total embodiment of a playful, hyperactive pet and had the children transfixed as he rolled about the stage whilst at the same time not distancing them with his occasional asides.

Leo Wringer's performance as Beast is also notable; although I should reinforce the show's warning that the play is not suitable for children under the age of seven, who watched Beast through teary eyes and covered ears. The cloaked Beast exploded onto the stage amid a cry of roaring and snarling echoing throughout the theatre. In Act Two when Beast is fully revealed, he is ravaging a woodland creature, gnawing at his insides, with blood splattered all over him whilst declaring in his gravelling tone that he will "slaughter" and "open throats". Wringer epitomises the savageness of this creature shunned by society, whilst managing to achieve comedy as we see him struggle with whether to mount the dinner table or politely sit on his chair.

The passion of Beast and the comic interjection of the two sisters and Kronenbourg throughout carried the performance along but it was interrupted by scenes that simply fell flat.

The thrill of a live performance will always engage a child but I'm not sure that this adaptation of Beauty and the Beast will be a Christmas memory that stays with them forever.

Playing until Saturday 5th January, 2008

Reviewer: Rachel Sheridan