Daniel Bye and his wife Sarah Punshon have put together a highly original riff on a much-loved fable with their new Beauty and the Beast. The script is imaginative and thought-provoking, allowing the actors to expand beyond the tried and tested confines of seasonal theatre, and there are moments of extraordinary tenderness and pathos amidst the more familiar quests and caprices of fairy tale. Even the lighter moments are steered with a deft hand - Bella’s dismissal of the Beast’s courtly suppers as a “pantomime” is only one of several ironic masterstrokes.
Music is also integral to the production’s magic. In the character of Musician, Jack Merivale shadows the stage like a melancholy Ariel, conjuring glockenspiels from the air and accompanying Bella’s wistful song of the rose, a number that wouldn’t be out of place in Joan Baez’s back catalogue.
Laura Sanchez’s performance as Bella is enchanting throughout and fully matched by John Dorney’s Beast, an expertly conceived combination of puppetry and vocal acting. Add to this a couple of catty sisters, a camera obscura and some perfectly conjugated German folk songs, all in the gilded splendour of a spiegeltent, and you pretty much have a perfect piece of winter theatre.