by Mike Kenny music by Julian Butler.

Lawrence Batley Theatre Queen Street HD1 2SP To 30 December 2012.
27-29 Dec 2.15pm & 7pm.
30 Dec 11am & 2.15pm.
Runs 1hr 40min One interval.

TICKETS: 01484 430528.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 23 December.

A performance with a true heroine.
You see some actors who ought not to be on stage at all. Like Helen Woolf, this show’s Beauty, just before Christmas. Her voice had given way almost completely on the Sunday morning, and as director Matt Aston, of co-producers Engine House theatre, drove in to make emergency arrangements, and a potential stand-in performer arrived in the foyer (none but the biggest Christmas shows can afford regular understudies), the afternoon audience was finally ushered in for a show starting 15 minutes late. But it came with the real Beauty.

For a person who’d probably have been doing herself more good moaning with self-pity in a warm bed, Woolf gave a fine impression of someone in peak condition, energetic in movement, clear in physical reaction to events and, in a piece that’s nearly all sung, a strong, well-characterised singing voice. A couple of songs were cut, and composer Julian Butler had doubtless provided opportunities which this performance could not fully exploit, but if someone whose voice had all but gone a few hours before can produce such quality, she should have a fine career ahead – and directors can be sure they have a very reliable company member.

It’s especially appropriate in this pocket-sized version of the story, for writer Mike Kenny concentrates the qualities of the self-seeking sisters and the selfless Beauty in the one character. Never malicious, she starts out thoughtlessly selfish. Kenny’s play shows Beauty’s voyage to self-realisation, replacing a self-centred unawareness of the need to take responsibility for herself and her father when their circumstances worsen.

Matt Aston’s production sets the action within one space, the Beast being the young man whose qualities she cannot see until she gains a perspective beyond self-interest. It is the servants, Butler and Cook, who help her, the latter with a magic that makes her food taste wonderful despite her poor cookery skills – it would be easy to see Laura Sheppard’s chirpily confident Cook as close relation to Stephen Sondheim’s Mrs Lovett, knowingly baking “the worst pies in London”.

But it’s Woolf who is the saviour and glory of the show.

Butler: Darren Benedict.
Beast: Julian Hoult.
Cook: Laura Sheppard.
Beauty: Helen Woolf.

Director: Matt Aston.
Designer: Lydia Denno.
Lighting: Mark Pritchard.
Musical Director: Julian Butler.
Choreographer: Emma Annetts.

2012-12-27 01:16:06

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