Pros: The cast was clearly having fun, which made me appreciate it more.
Cons: The reference to mobile phones is unnecessary for a production in which the characters travel on horseback.
In the heart of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, a short walk from either Barons Court or West Kensington, there is a bright and spacious pub called The Curtains Up. On its walls, covered with vintage hot air balloon wallpaper, hang large mirrors and wooden tennis rackets. Down a steep and narrow staircase – under the vaults of what was once perhaps the wine cellar – is a tiny theatre, with low ceilings and brick pillars painted in black. With a capacity of just under sixty people, the Barons Court Theatre features old cinema-style seats and is one of the smallest performing spaces I’ve ever seen. They stage a varied programme of short-run plays, classics and afternoon performances for younger audiences.
Jellyfish Theatre Company has chosen this venue for their most recent production of Beauty and the Beast. The evident camaraderie of the whole cast, who take advantage of the ample space for improvisation, and the comedic elements of the performance – for instance, the merchant’s (James Walker-Black) cockney accent – add a new layer to the magic of this classic fairy tale. Bringing well-known stories to life through storytelling, the company is committed to creating work that is highly accessible, vivid and appealing to children of four years and over.
Combining moments of audience interaction and participation with songs, Beauty and the Beast easily captivates the attention of the young ones, who are visibly amazed by the unfolding of the plot. Meanwhile, the parents can enjoy the subtle layer of grown-up humour cleverly added by artistic director Sarah Simpson to her adaptation of Barbot de Villeneuve’s eighteenth-century classic.
The setup is simple but functional, and the performance doesn’t suffer from the minimal contribution provided by the production values. The set is essentially composed of a stack of cardboard boxes, which form the Beast’s castle, sitting in the background together with a few fir trees drawn on the black wall with a chalk crayon. Rebecca Lyon’s discrete lighting contributes to the magical elements of the story, while the soundtrack choices play on puns that might be more accessible for the adult audience.
The plain costumes are completed by cardboard cut-out props, which are inexpensive but cute nonetheless. The only flaw in this stripped-down but engaging production is the use of cell phones to communicate, which, for the sake of coherence, clashes with the use of horses to travel. In an era where mobile phones are ever-present and naturally attractive to young children, their unnecessary presence in a piece of classic imagery comes across as a superfluous gimmick.
Beauty and the Beast is the perfect fit for the cosy basement theatre in Barons Court and a great alternative for parents who want to introduce their little ones to the wonderful world of performing arts.
Author: Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve
Adapted and Directed By: Sarah Simpson
Producer: Jellyfish Theatre Company
Box Office: 020 7267 2304
Booking Link: http://www.seetickets.com/tour/the-beauty-and-the-beast
This show has transferred to the Lion and Unicorn theatre until 11 June 2017.