Traditional tale bent into great new shape

Beauty and the Beast featuring Natasha Davidson as Belle and Gareth Cassidy at The Beast
Beauty and the Beast featuring Natasha Davidson as Belle and Gareth Cassidy at The Beast

Beauty and the Beast, The Dukes, Lancaster

Add a dash of Jane Eyre, maybe even a suggestion of Cinderella, and you have this beguiling take on the traditional French fairy tale.

Young Lancaster-based writer Eddie Robson is not the first to notice Ms Bronte owes more than a little to Madame de Beaumont’s story, and with just a little Christmas seasoning turns it all into entrancing entertainment.

The Dukes policy, of bending traditional tales to their own ways and means, pays off yet again. No-one, young or old, is going to feel short-changed even with a cast of six, delivering more than a dozen roles, in a space about the size of a boxing ring.

Robson, and director Joe Sumsion, cleverly subvert the motives - and morality - of Beauty and the Beast. As always it’s what’s inside a person’s character that counts, but not before a lot of thrills and fun have been had in an astonishingly compact two hours.

The second act is pretty well a feast of physical theatre as the cast take over the re-enacting of a silent movie epic, neatly spliced together by film maker Jon Randall. It’s not just that Gareth Cassidy can turn a hump-backed Beast into a gurning clown in the blink of an eye, or that Natasha Davidson makes such an eye-catching Beauty. It’s just that everywhere else you look Polly Lister and Victoria Brazier are playing statues, skittish sisters or lumpen lawyers, while Derek Elwood and Guy Hargreaves are milking their own various characters for comedy. A first-class cast of many familiar faces in as thorough and entertaining a Christmas show as you’ll find anywhere. Until January 2.

DAVID UPTON