Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 3 December 2012

Beyond Beauty

The Last Refuge ⋄ 27th November - 15th December 2012

Faded magic.

Alice Saville

Inhabiting the grand new(ish) tradition of subverting classic tales, Ron Hutchinson’s play seems to aim to do for Sleeping Beauty what Wicked did for the Wizard of Oz, but without its breathless rollercoaster of a plot, or the dark humour that let Roald Dahl, in questionable taste, call his Cinderella a ‘dirty slut’, we are left with a fun piece that never creates that anarchic sense of naughtiness that retellings can create.

The premise of the play rests on some rather forgiveable fudging. It changes the traditional 100-year nap into a lengthier snooze of 300, to better facilitate clashes with the present day, but although Charles Perrault’s original literary fairytale was written in 1697, it was set rather earlier, as he purported to be passing on old tales, a fact hinted at by the resolutely medieval visual style, with none of the bows, curled wigs and petticoats of the early eighteenth century. The royals are exiled from a blurred generic pastland, inhabited by peasants, professional poo-stompers and chocolate eclairs, to find a present that is in no clearer focus, too rosy-tinted to stir the universally grown-up audience with contemporary comment.

The famous anti-somnolent kiss is a starting point for a winter’s romp of mild discontent from everyone; the Princess’s parents are disapproving, the palace is crumbling, the peasants are revolting and her “Prince” is an ordinary bloke who works in processed meat products. Magic has faded as surely as the water-damaged tapestries, leaving the good and wicked fairies stamping their feet and waving their wands in vain. The royals make no solid attempt to adjust to their situation, refusing even to glimpse the changed world outside; instead, a series of set-pieces see them throwing tantrums at their reduced circumstances: the Queen rejecting her tea-bagged tea, the King selling off the throne. Princess Gwendolen, as the ambassador for youth and sanity, might be expected to seize the initiative, earning money, cleaning up, exploring the world outside. Instead, though, she moons over her prince and thinks of nothing but her marriage, with three hundred years making only the smallest of dents on her soppy psyche.

There are some good moments: Gwendolen and the prince’s awkward, shuffling dance, caught between styles and centuries, is helped by inventive sound design by Richard Norris and Lydia Samuels. David Eaton’s Jack-of-all-trades cycles through the supporting roles with aplomb, and Richard Cunningham’s King is delightfully fusty. Other elements grate, though, especially the use of a narrator; the school-play ghosts of loud-voiced, reach-the-back-of-the-hall children are barely dispelled by unsubtle and unwitty commentary on the action.

The unconventional venue creates a sense of occasion of sorts, even if the occasion risks being “that time I was mugged in a Peckham industrial estate”, and the gorgeous design by James Turner, complete with blankets, goes some way to thawing the extremities. Shivering in a miasma of the audience’s breath, though, it is rather easier to greet the entrance of the wicked fairy through the shuttered garage door, accompanied by a motorbike and a burst of cold air from outside, with the disapprobation she deserves.

This play is pacey and fun, but has none of the satirical energy or drive to be found even in a traditional panto, let alone in a retelling targeted at adults; instead we are left with a pretty sort of magic, fading and unravelling like the Queen’s three century-old dresses, but shedding an occasional thread of gold.

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Alice Saville

Alice is editor of Exeunt, as well as working as a freelance arts journalist for publications including Time Out, Fest and Auditorium magazine. Follow her on Twitter @Raddington_B

Beyond Beauty Show Info


Directed by Simon Pollard

Written by Ron Hutchinson

Cast includes Bevan Celestine, Sophie Robinson, Natalie Harman, David Eaton, Cate Hamer, Richard Cunningham, Greg Tannahill, Katie Scarfe

Link http://www.thelastrefuge.co.uk/

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