The temptation with fairy tales is to ramp up the dark. This is especially so when the script is written by the Artistic Director of the National Theatre, Rufus Norris, whose theatre career has tackled challenging subjects, including his smash-hit musical London Road about the Ipswich murders.
Director Bill Buckhurst took many of those elements: danger, violence, music and dance and in a tip to children in the audience, repeated explosive farting. It was an odd combination which held the Saturday night audience at the enchanting Watermill Theatre at Bagnor enthralled – and some, undoubtedly appalled.
Designer Simon Kelly's set build on several levels made imaginative use of a small stage creating moments of magic such as the moon rising behind waving, twig-like fingers, or Beauty's single spindle prick. However for a production which was so richly wrought, it demanded space, at times struggling to contain itself, like the sinister briars which enveloped Beauty.
There was much playing against type: Goody the Fairy (vivacious Molly Logan) had both a temper and when casting a spell – flatulence; Beauty (spirited Rachel Winters) appeared first in grunge, after all spinning wheels had been banished for her own protection, before a beautiful dress fit for a princess proved her undoing; Suitor (Alex Mugnaioni) was both Prince of Nerves, and Prince of Nerds – neither unthinkingly combative enough to penetrate the barrier of briars.
Peter Bray was superb as the Minstrel, goading the good-natured but weak King (Matthew Romain) for his shortcomings, including bowing to his domineering wife (Sioned Saunders) over the guest list at Beauty's christening. Bray was less charming as the part ogre Prince, who lacked nothing in strength but a great deal in subtlety, the offspring of his doughty ogre mother (Simon Nock) conflicted over whether to nurse her twin grandchildren, or cook them, but with a wimpled grace which her beastly, belligerent husband lacked.
Tarek Merchant's music, the cast's musicality and proficiency with a wide range of instruments brought another layer of richness to the Christmas show. Be ready for some challenging post production questions on why eating people is wrong.