Beauty and the Beast (3 stars)

Stuart Paterson's 'children's play' is enjoyable but lacks the energy of true panto

Beauty and the Beast

The basic story is so simple it’s mythic: girl meets beast, they fall in love, beast turns into boy. Stuart Paterson’s venerable adaptation is a tad more complicated. There are ugly sisters (as if a titular ugly character weren’t enough), played with irresistible relish by Karen Traynor and Nicola Roy, who are hampered only slightly by not being ugly at all. Then there’s a witch, Crackjaw, whose role is confusing. Crackjaw creates the Beast, but then the beast has to die so that she can have his ‘power’. Hang on, if she created him, surely the power is hers? And why doesn’t she just kill him? Never mind, the show ticks along as smoothly as a vintage Daimler, and Angela Clerkin brilliantly enhances the malevolence by giving Crackjaw a voice curiously evocative of Margaret Thatcher chewing expanded polystyrene. Ruth Milne tackles the laugh-free role of Beauty with admirable commitment. Andrew Rothney as the Beast has to wear what looks like a boarskin on his head, but he projects tenderness and dignity.

Your typical modern panto is like one of Tolkien’s orcs: nasty, ugly and cynical. Beauty and the Beast rightly distances itself by self-describing as a ‘children’s play’, but it needs a double shot of the manic energy that was historically the lifeblood of panto. The fairytale element inspires Neil Murray’s gorgeous set and some lovely stagecraft, but they’re at war with the bearpit, peanut-shells element, as if Paterson would have preferred to write something seductively Cocteauesque but felt obliged to throw in the odd fart and puke joke. The kids seemed gripped, although smaller ones may find the spookier moments alarming. As Beast lay dying, Beauty, choked with emotion, whispered ‘I love you, Beast.’ Pause, then a sardonic, pre-teen, female voice fluted from the stalls: ‘Well, kiss ’im, then.’

Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, until Sat 31 Dec.

YouTube: Beauty and the Beast - an interview with Karen Traynor and Nicola Roy

Beauty & the Beast

Another typically magical and luxuriant festive treat is promised by the Royal Lyceum's annual Christmas show, which this year tells the story of a brave Beauty who honours her foolish father's word and goes to live with a reclusive beast.

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