REVIEW: Beauty And The Beast

The Lyric's Christmas production of Beauty And The Beast is an alternatively idiosyncratic delight on nearly every level. It wittily toys with the structure, story and characters of a beloved classic without losing its equally beloved heart and beat. In short, it's a typically atypical children's Christmas show at the Lyric, which, if recent predecessors Little Red Riding Hood and The Gingerbread Mix-Up are anything to go by, is always something to look forward to.

This time we don't have revolving pianos in mid-air or houses that look good enough to eat. But we do have a smart, minimalist turntable set, vibrant costumes, sparky characters and a score packed with Wagnerian power ballads.

Theo (Mark Dugdale) is a most excitable yet most troubled father. Looking like those forgotten icons Timmy Mallett and Chesney Hawkes, he’s like dated kitsch on legs, a nonetheless likable sort who sings to keep happy when he's not working as a paper boy, pizza man and more to support daughter Bella (Charlotte McCurry). But no one will hear his demo tape.

At least he feels like singing, though. Bella doesn't. Losing her mother has taken the desire from her usually angelic pipes, which once had a song for everyone. She needs a muse, one who puts a spring in her step and a song in her heart.

Needless to say, et cetera. But this Beast (Ross Hoey) is a little different: he's an aspiring balladeer turned giant walking Meatloaf (in rock star and appearance!) by a control freak of a road manager, Orla Gormley's devious, devilish diva, Shazza. She's a has-been who lives her long gone dreams through him, while he's a big star struggling to be creative himself, a grumpy so-and-so who sacks assistants over sugars in his tea. Will he escape Shazza's clutches? Will he and Bella inspire each other? Will Theo actually get a musical career? It's mostly all there to be answered.

Director Paul Boyd and composer Katie "Goldie Fawn" Richardson have unearthed unusual freshness in the song as old as rhyme. It's as periodically peculiar and proudly eighties as the Lyric have surely ever been. The score is wildly, wonderfully eclectic, from outright crazy odes to pizza (!) to poignant (and rudely, deliberately interrupted) duets. Diana Ennis' striking costumes are sometimes as gaudy as Donald Trump's Christmas tree, but that's the point: we've come three full decades to relive the soulless superficiality of a decade our childhoods worshipped, only now we're older, more knowing and more cynical. Thankfully, we also see why we loved it - we were, after all, kids! Who are thoroughly enjoying this show.

Boyd and Richardson's influence is always clear but never domineering, allowing the cast to be fully, openly expressive within Derek O'Connor and Trevor J. O'Colgan's generally funny and richly-layered narrative. Of note is how everyone conveys the transformative and transitional effects of time and celebrity.

As with the MAC's Hansel & Gretel, it's the brief moments, big or small, that matter. Like the Beast swigging a bottle of Coke, burping, and asking for more. What else do we creatives do to keep ourselves going during our uninspired phases than pump ourselves full of salty snacks and sugary drinks? We know they're bad for us, in the same way the Beast knows Shazza's tour is doing him little good, but he, and we, want more. For this, the bubbly Bella is an antidote, and Charlotte McCurry excels, plying this apparent ingenue with aspects of the wisdom and maturity she brought to Nivelli's War and Pinocchio. She is as much a mentor as she is a lover, guiding the Beast to a comforting new world - and reminding everyone why this Beauty and her Beast are, deep down, as true as they can be to the tale as old as time.

Simon Fallaha

Beauty And The Beast runs at Belfast's Lyric Theatre until January 6 2018.

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