Review: Beauty and the Beast at Unity Theatre Liverpool

By Nigel Smith

THIS retelling of Beauty and the Beast defies any adult in the audience not to end up wide eyed and feeling like a seven year old again.

The now familiar team of writer Kevin Dyer, director Nina Hajiyianni and composer Patrick Dineen are back, with this co production that sees Unity and Action Transport Theatre join forces with DaDaFest. The result is pure magic.

Once again, a cast of 4 actors use very simple but versatile staging to really get the audience firing up their imaginations. Against a backdrop of billowing red drapes, three doorframes are swiftly manoeuvred about the stage to create the various doors, windows, rooms and corridors in the Beast’s house.

The story is all there, but is stripped back to its skeleton and re-dressed with wonderfully subtle but hugely effective storytelling. Stephen Collins, as Belle’s father, strays one day into a strange garden and picks a rose. Chastised by the eccentric housekeeper (Simone Lewis) he promises to return with payment, but of course the mysterious beast, so far only seen lurking in the shadows, wants something more.

So Belle, played by Rose-Marie Christian, finds herself in the big house, locked in an upstairs room and fed three meals a day as the days stack up “like dirty plates”. She finds tricks played on her every night and so manages to escape by climbing out of a window and along a ledge, only to be recaptured after meeting the Beast.

Edward Day plays the Beast with all the awkwardness of a child who doesn’t fit in. His beastliness takes the form of petulant outbursts and outward signs of frustration. It turns out that the rose symbolised for him all that was left of happy memories from a time before he was bullied and made to feel unlovable. Belle manages to get through the barriers he’s put up to defend himself, and they find friendship.

The 90 minute journey they take to get here is full of laughter and tears, with some outstanding physical theatre, played out to Patrick Dineen’s quirky, expressive score. Much of the dialogue and song are also rendered in BSL, seamlessly integrated into the performance. The party game for audience participation is one that everyone can join in with, and even the smallest of children can get up on stage without fear of being made fun of. This is immensely inclusive theatre.

It’s a genuinely child-centred work, absolutely focused on delivering its message with real warmth and heart.

Beauty and the Beast runs at  Unity Theatre until 9th January and then at Whitby Hall in Ellesmere Port from 10th to 13th January. Check out the schedules, which also include fully BSL signed and relaxed performances.