Written By: Mark Armstrong
Date: December 4 2018
Location: Unity Theatre, Liverpool
Providing its unique take on a classic fairytale, Unity Theatre’s version of Beauty And The Beast foregoes the Christmas festivities to put on a play that has you greatly invested in the characters and their situations.
One day, a carefree father (Stephen Collins) happens to pick a rose from a garden, unaware that it belongs to the feared Beast (Edward Day), and is only informed by the Beast’s maid (Simone Lewis). Once she learns about this, his daughter Belle (Rose-Marie Christian) insists on returning the flower to the Beast’s lair, so much so that she takes it there herself. Once there, though, she is essentially trapped and forced to live there by the Maid, who is quite a character through her repetition of the daily meal times.
Amidst her attempts to escape, Belle meets the Beast over dinner, and somehow, sparks begin to fly. It may not be as romantic a relationship as the Beast would like (he asks several times to marry her and is flatly turned down each time), but a friendship, a real bond, definitely forms, so much so that while Belle does find a way to return home, she almost feels guilt and eventually goes to see the Beast again. Once more, though, the unknowing Dad has not seen the softer side of the Beast and visits his house, armed with a rake, to rescue Belle. How will this story end, and considering all the elements, what exactly is the happy ending that would satisfy all?
These are the questions that we, the audience, are posed during this show. The play is light-hearted and is aimed at a younger audience, despite some scary visuals towards the end, which allows for some audience interaction in the form of a crowd-involved conga line at one point! All of the cast do a fine job in their roles, and they also play more than one role; for instance, we see a scene of the Beast at a party where he is joined by three guests, played by Collins, Lewis and Christian. Each half lasts around 40 minutes, meaning that the story moves along fairly swiftly, and there are some clever in-jokes and use of props, especially considering the intimate setting of Unity itself.
There can be a danger at Christmas time for almost every panto to feel the same, so it’s refreshing to see an alternate perspective of one of the more famous stories. I would say that it didn’t feel particularly festive, meaning that this could have been held at any time of the year and had the same effect, but it was based more on the performance and the story than the wackiness of other shows. Sure, there are light moments, but this feels like a more serious approach on the tale, albeit one that still lets its guard down often enough to elicit laughs and smiles from the many kids in attendance.
So, in summary, Unity’s version of Beauty And The Beast is more than adequate, and it will give you a different experience from other festive shows that are being held around Liverpool.
Overall Rating: 7.5/10 – Good