There is a specific and very warm kind of magic in Belt Up’s shows that it’s difficult to find anywhere else. Throwing audience members and performers together in beautiful sets – from their original plush Red Room in 2008 to this ornate lounge – they manage to turn us into children and persuade us to take part in all manner of childish behaviour.
RATING: * * * *
It’s appropriate, then, that their latest piece is an adaptation (by Jethro Compton) of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s children’s novel, A Little Princess. As usual, this is anything but a traditional reworking – instead we get a mixture of three stories within stories drawing inspiration from a variety of sources, including Hodgson Burnett’s life.
Stepping through the theatre door is like stepping into another era – one of 19th century décor and formal values. We are children at a boarding school overseen by a formidable Dominic Allen as our school mistress, Miss Minchin. We do as we’re told, answering questions on geography and nervously laughing until shouted at – whereupon we instantly stop. The interaction makes us an active part in the story, encouraging us to feel it much more than a straight retelling.
At the centre of events is precocious new pupil Sara Crewe (played by Serena Manteghi), a self-defined “princess” from an affluent background who is forced to join a cockney servant lad, Lionel (impressively versatile character actor Compton), in the attic when she loses all her money.
Behaving with princess-like courage and decorum when you have nothing is harder than when you have everything, we learn. But Compton’s version of the story is also about a human desire to accept a fantasy where everything can be this easily explained and resolved – rather than face the fact that we’re about to be thrown back into the real world.
Until 27 August. Today 6:30pm.