Beauty And The Beast

The Mirror Tent is back this Christmas! A fresh, magical retelling of the classic fairytale. Ages 6+
Mirror Tent at MINI Plant Oxford (BMW), Fri November 27th 2009 - Sat January 16th 2010

December 4, 2009
Creation Theatre's publicity is quite insistent that their production of Beauty and the Beast is a Christmas show, not a panto. They're so insistent, I began to wonder who they were trying to convince. Would this be thinly disguised, farcical, booing and hissing territory? Fortunately the answer is no! This is a sparkly, festive production all right, but at its heart is good, old-fashioned, solid gold storytelling.

The Mirror Tent is gorgeous, and if you haven't been yet, you should! Its glitz, mirrors, fairy lights and rich drapery all tell you immediately you're entering a world of winter-night stories. There's no campfire to sit around, but a raised stage, and the audience relax at cabarat tables with upturned faces focused on the magic before them.

The husband and wife writer and director Peter Bye and Sarah Punshon are keen to stress their version is not related to Disney's. They've gone back to a much older folk tale, from the 18th Century. And though it's hard to escape the modern nuances this production certainly stands on its own merits. The characters have real motivations and aren't just symbolic heroes and villains. As Bye says, Bella's interesting for her curiosity and quick-wittedness, not to mention her stubbornness. She's not just a goody-two-shoes.

Tom Attwood's music is fabulous, and woven intricately through the story. Musician Jack Merivale sports all manner of portable instruments in turn, and everyone sings. It's tuneful, excellent for setting the scene, and beautifully integrated.

The Beast's Castle is beautifully realised. The servants are mysteriously invisible, and communicate by music, objects appear and disappear, and the Beast himself is really well acted by John Dorney. Puppetry can be very hit or miss, and the Beast is definitely a hit. His movements are subtle and effective and his eyes glow in the darkness! Puppet-maker Rachael Canning has done a good job - he's both menacing and lovable.

I didn't have a child to test the production on, but it seemed to be very satisfying to all its audience. There are some lovely silly bits - a tour of the globe in double quick time, for instance. And there's no abrupt switch between gallivanting and plot - they're seamless. The writing sets up the traditional motif of repeating phrases, and then plays with that motif - using different languages to great comedic effect.

In short this is a very substantial and enjoyable production. It covers quite a range of moods and is somehow seasonal without being out-and-out christmassy. I'm a bit of a bah-humbug when it comes to pantos, but I thought this was perfect.
Well, what would you do if your father traded you in for a rose from a ferocious beast? Daniel Bye is the writer of this adaptation for The Creation Theatre Company at Cowley; he had a hard job of after Disney had won the hearts of many. However, as the story was different it didn't feel like a competition – more like something new and exciting.

The tale was told by the five main characters through dialogue and singing (sometimes a little over-long). We had to wait until act two to really get involved with the story when we entered the castle and were properly introduced to the Beast.

The Beast's costume was very good, his eyes were lit up, well reflected in the mirrors all round Creation’s ‘Mirror Tent’. Overall the play was entertaining, the best scenes being those where Bella and the Beast travelled the world and had a little song and dance with the natives - even if we couldn't understand the language.
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