BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
by Phil Porter.
Unicorn Theatre for Children (Weston auditorium) 147 Tooley Street SE1 2HZ To 23 January 2011.
Runs 2hr One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7645 0560.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 30 December.
Beautifully adapted, with a lively staging.
Never expect the expected from Phil Porter, who generally manages to be unexpected in unexpected ways. Character names in his Beauty and the Beast gives some idea of the way he’s thinking, but there’s more to this than meets the eye cast over a dramatis personae. Nor is it just wacky effects like the carrot-nosed, accordion-playing Scarecrow visible as the lights go up.
A main impression of Tony Graham’s production is how busy characters are, working in, or popping-up from holes in the garden setting (all of a theme with Oily Cart’s Mole in a Hole downstairs). Half the stage is an allotment where the Brizzlewinks seek to be self-sustaining in their impoverishment. Except for sister Seline, whom Julie Hewlett shows sitting at the edge with disdain, waiting for wealth to bring the world to rights.
Digging the earth and being considerate to the creatures living within it are virtues in this modern day story. Practical clothing and activity are good, self-adornment and sitting around not to be admired. Both place Amaka Okafor’s Belle on the angels’ side, though she’s no angel at times in manner, being able to give as good as she gets with sister Seline.
Their modern world makes a contrast in Jason Southgate’s set and costumes with Beast’s forest hideaway, defined by its ornate dining-table, formally antique costumes and, in Porter’s script, ways of communicating. Together, the settings create a palimpsest, acknowledging and subverting the story’s aristocratic originals.
Aimed at 7+, Graham’s production has a not-too-frightening Beast, whose identity acquires a new significance when revealed. Both in bestial and human guises, John Cockerill’s sympathetic assertion continues his increasingly impressive presence within the Unicorn ensemble who form the majority of this cast.
Perhaps most impressive, along with Graham’s colourful and ever-busy, yet detailed and clear line through the story, is the way Porter provides incidental characters and comic diversions along the way without losing the sense of narrative drive. And a storytelling tact that gives a focus on human qualities, in whatever guise, to a tale which can seem one of little more than comings and goings.
Mrs Prowkombobularifinch/Mrs Careworn: Samantha Adams.
Shipping Clerk/Beast/Boy: John Cockerill.
Seline Brizzlewink: Julie Hewlett.
Bob Brizzlewink: Richard Hollis
Raymond Brizzlewink: Liam Lane.
Scarecrow/Boatman/ Mr Beleaguer: Nadia Morgan.
Bruno Fisk: Ery Nzaramba.
Belle Brizzlewink: Amaka Okafor.
Director: Tony Graham.
Designer/Costume: Jason Southgate.
Lighting: Oliver Fenwick.
Composer/Musical Director: Joe Townsend.
Movement: Scott Graham.
Puppetry: Polly Beestone.