Theatre reviews: Beauty and the Beast | An Unexpected Hiccup | Ghost Stories

The climax of Beauty and the Beast at the Playhouse is as wildly dramatic and spectacular as any big-screen movie, only with added live-thetare energy, writes Joyce McMillan
Beauty and The BeastBeauty and The Beast
Beauty and The Beast

Beauty And The Beast, Playhouse, Edinburgh ****

An Unexpected Hiccup, The Studio, Edinburgh ****

Ghost Stories, Pitlochry Festival Theatre ***

A story as old as time, says the love ballad at the heart of Disney’s Beauty And The Beast; and although the story itself first appeared in 1740, there is indeed something primal about this tale of the lovely girl who learns to love the beast who holds her prisoner, but is himself victim of a terrible enchantment.

The story sounds like a male fantasy, but was written by a woman, the novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve; and that paradox perhaps accounts for its tremendous romantic power, gorgeously celebrated in this spectacular Disney stage version of the story. There are certainly moments when, in classic pantomime style, the sheer scale of the production almost overwhelms the fairytale. With a cast of 30, a 12-piece orchestra, and dazzling set, costume and video design, the show boasts a couple of giant production numbers that seem unlikely ever to end, including an eye-popping Busby-Berkeley style version of Be Our Guest, to round off the first half.

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In the second act, though, the storytelling becomes ever more intense and compelling, The final scenes are as wildly dramatic and spectacular as any big-screen movie; yet there’s no doubting the live theatre energy that has the audience roaring out its final standing ovation for a full-strength company in terrific form, telling a tale of redemption by love that is always and everywhere irresistible.

A lonely traveller seeks shelter in a great house full of uncanny secrets; it’s a classic motif that features in Beauty And The Beast, and appears again in the latest show from Lung Ha theatre company, which works with adults with learning difficulties. Created jointly with Edinburgh-based physical theatre stars Plutot La Vie, An Unexpected Hiccup tells the tale of Murdo, who loses his way while hiking in the Highlands, and seeks refuge in a house which belongs to friends of friends.

Things inside the house, though, soon prove to range from the surreal to the downright weird, as a six-strong company of Lung Ha stars play a family of eccentric adult siblings – plus servant – awaiting the death of their father, who is wheezing horribly in the next room. Tim Licata of Plutot La Vie turns in a brilliantly-pitched performance as poor Murdo; and Emma McCaffrey and Nicola Tuxworth lead the cast of siblings in an astonishing 75-minute display of surreal comic brilliance, played out on a superb set by Karen Tennant, and full of wit, wisdom, and bold, boundary-busting theatrical energy.

As if struck by some Hallowe’en spell, meanwhile, Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s show Ghost Stories – a 75-minute three-part promenade through the wet woods to a glowing campfire – has not had the best of luck. The press performance took place in heavy rain, one of the three stories had to be cancelled when an actor dropped out, and the replacement for the lost monologue takes the form of a bizarre version of Tam O’Shanter stripped of most of its Scots words, and all of its rhyme and rhythm; somehow, “Well done, short skirt” just lacks the same ring as “Weel done, Cutty Sark.”

The other two stories, by Maryam Hamidi and Jen McGregor, deal with adult themes of sex and race, grief and haunting, in uncompromising style. Saskia Ashdown gives a memorable performance in Hamidi’s I Look Down On Myself, reflecting on the life of a black woman haunted by a relationship with a white Scottish man; and although McGregor’s When Soft Voices Die is slightly undermined at first by a decision to use a “Morningside” accent that only signals comedy, it matures in a brief 15 minutes into a touching portrait of a woman seeking to find some peace in her relationship with the dead, in the dark and dripping woods of a Perthshire Hallowe’en.

Beauty And The Beast runs until 27 November, An Unexpected Hiccup until tomorrow, Ghost Stories until 7 November

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