The Tale of Beauty and the Tail of the Beast

Lyric's postmodern panto forgets about the children

With the Grimes and McKee seasonal tickle-fest well underway at the Lyric, time now to cater for the kids – those privileged beings otherwise known as future theatre audiences. To capture the little darlings/monsters' festive hearts this year, the Lyric has chosen to put on a musical, romptastical version of the classic French fairy tale Beauty and the Beast.

With nary a singing candlestick or gratuitous 3-dimensional genie in sight, the Lyric have opted for heavy farce, hi-jinks and hollering to capture the imaginations of the young and impressionable. And being that it’s a French story, the cast perform throughout in 'ze outrrraaageeeouuss Fraaawnch Acksense' normally reserved for lascivious cartoon skunks.

The Lyric seems to have glutted on the old post-modern pills this Christmas too as B & B is, like G & M’s festive howler, a play within a play.

In 18th century France a raggle-taggle travelling band of players, lead by one Monsieur Affable, roll into town to perform their version of Beauty and the Beast. While rehearsing said play, all manner of capers ensue, many of them requiring a double-entendre to reach resolution and before long, we’re up to our elbows in somebody else’s drawers.

The action flits from the staged ‘rehearsal’ of the play to behind the scenes shenanigans of the players. It moves very quickly indeed, is interspersed by song and dance interludes and is at times genuinely bewildering. With a loose lewd here and an odd bawd there, it seems to be more geared toward the grown-ups rather than their young wards.

Kids stare blankly at the unfolding action, often fidgeting and slightly distracted. The aforementioned accents don’t help as sharpened adult ears pick up strangled lines that leave younger ‘shell-likes’ confounded. The relatively complex structure of the play is also confusing. Is this Beauty’s father or Msr Affable before us, and what is the beast babbling about in his faux-gallic passive-aggressive tones?

The saving grace for young and old alike is the twin comic delights of Ben Sleep as Msr Affable and Christina Nelson as both Gabrielle and the meta-fictional horrendous sister. Sleep and Nelson are the gurning, hamming, grotesquely delicious heart of the play and bring its lightest and most enjoyable moments.

The set is big and gaudy and suitably fairytale-ish. This along with the quite well-realised embodiment of the Beast does at least bring a little of the magic of the best children’s theatre to bear, as does the chirpy songs, although listening to the considerably post-pubescent guffaws echoing around the auditorium, it is unquestionable which age group goes home happier.

In the best musical tradition, the songs hammer home a certain moment of pathos or frippery. They are performed very well by a close harmony cast, although the beast plaintively singing 'I don’t know her at all' was (one presumes) unintentionally hilarious.

So then, The Tale of the Beauty and the Tail of the Beast is a giddy Restoration version of Allo Allo scored by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Whether that sounds hideous or thrilling to you, I can’t argue either way. It is a curio - too knowing and possibly too confusing for kids.

Joe Nawaz

The Tale of Beauty and the Tail of the Beast is on at Elmwood Hall Belfast until January 10. Check out Culture Live! listings here for more info.