Beasts and Beauties tonight at the Hampstead… And it was. A. Delight. Like living into a child’s drawing. The performance was by an ensemble of nine moving parts who knew each other, and their business, as nicely as you could hope. Presented were six fairy tales, Blue Beard, The Husband Who Was To Mind the House For the Day, Beauty and the Beast, Toby and the Wolf, The Juniper Tree, and The Emperor’s New Clothes. Each was displayed with a faithfulness and a tenderness that are a tribute to their progenitors. This is a remount from the 2010 Hampstead season, and by all accounts it’s a step up and an improvement. The performances unflinchingly bring to life tales that are often grisly and difficult (even for ‘modern’ theatre sensibilities like those of my guest and myself). In a time when all eyes are wide and all nostrils flared in terror for political correctness, and nowhere moreso than in the realm of children’s services, this show (of which it cannot be said enough that it is not a childrens’ show, but rather a show children will enjoy) picks up the gauntlet and throws down its own offering proudly and without reserve (to say that Beasts and Beauties is a little cheeky would be to do a disservice to the show, its performers, and the creative team as well).
My attendance of tonight’s press night performance and following reception was at the invitation of a friend who’s working for the theatre. Thus invited by school chum, I had no acquaintance with the show prior to sitting myself and my companion down in our seats. We were sat in the N row, the front row of the circle at the Hampstead, and a excellent vantage-point, and from our perch, we prepared ourselves for the unknown. The stage looked like the remnants of a post-modern dream, and the audience was a pretty good mix of families and adults sans children. When the show finally started, I was pretty well on the alert for a piece of children’s theatre. Which is not to say a bad piece of theatre… necessarilly…
And to be honest… When the first piece started, I thought it was going to lose me. For about three minutes. But then suddenly I found myself caught up in the story, in the characters as they were presented, and in the mystery and danger of it all. This was one of those tales I’d not really heard since childhood and I was always just two steps behind the story, so the performance had that working in its favor. For those of you unfamiliar with the story of Blue Beard (or any of the stories presented, for that matter)… Stay ignorant! My enjoyment of the stories I was less familiar with was, across the board, better and more exciting/rich/fulfilling than of those I knew by rote. This is not to say that if you have a storybook with all of these tales in you shouldn’t come out… Far from it. But the experience was definitely richer when I was less familiar with what was going to happen. Anyway, all that said, as soon as the lights changed and the stage shifted for the first major reveal, when the new wife of the Bluebeard makes the decision whether or not to open the small closet, everything changed. I found myself no longer in a world of platitudes and safe certainties. Melly Still and her company had dropped me into the rabbot hole and I was off on a wild ride of my own.
Beasts and Beauties is like rediscovering imagination and the joy and reality of things that are invisible, impossible, and improper. An innovative and imaginative use of props and materials combines with a spell-binding score, stellar acting, and exciting story-telling to present the delighted viewer with a fun and fantastical evening of theatre, story-telling, and good times. I highly reccommend this fun-filled and unpretentious piece of theatre going whether you’re four, fourty, or four-score and seven.