It is a daunting task, particularly in the case of theatre for young audiences, to take a cherished classic such Beauty and the Beast and give it a new modern-day treatment, without sacrificing its magic.
Derek O’Connor and Trevor J Colgan have bravely shouldered the challenge of de-Disneyfying the saccharine tale of a charming young girl’s confrontation with a monstrous but kindly being, who wears his beauty on the inside.
In collaboration with composer Katie Richardson, they have come up with a 1980s rock opera alternative but not even Paul Boyd’s famously effervescent direction can lift a show that is devoid of that vital basic ingredient: there is no magic.
Here, the Beast (Ross Hoey) is a masked, lupine recluse with a big, resonant singing voice and a strange way of walking. Grotesque and tortured, he has become merely a money-making machine for his scheming manager Shazza (Orla Gormley). It takes the intervention of sparky Bella (Charlotte McCurry), who has not sung since her mother’s death, and her amiable Jack-of-all trades father Theo (Mark Dugdale) to unlock the Beast’s songwriting block and enable him to reclaim his true identity.
With a cast of just four, it is difficult to put real flesh onto the bones of such an ambitious, grown-up reimagining. One solution seems to be to raise the decibels on the soundtrack but, in the process, this cautionary tale of the burden of celebrity is overwhelmed and largely goes over the heads of younger audience members.
Mystifyingly, the inviting central component of Ciaran Bagnall’s neon blue circular set is a grand piano, which remains unplayed throughout. Nobody could deny the work ethic of all concerned, front and back stage. But it becomes distracting to watch a pair of stage hands toiling wearily with a weighty revolving stage as the limp script unfolds, punctuated by a series of cheesy songs about life, love, loss … and pizzas.
Christmas shows should leave lasting childhood memories. Far from drawing young imaginations into a brave new world of wonder, this production feels flat and cannot be rescued by cranking up the volume on McCurry’s clear vocals, playing up Dugdale’s cartoony comedy, distorting the Beast’s speech or puffing dry ice over Gormley’s snarling efforts as the baddie of the piece.
Runs until 6 January 2018.
This is an extended version of the review which was published in The Irish Times on 20 December.