Beasts & Beauties is a children’s show based on Carol Ann Duffy’s book of European fairy tales by the same name. The Poet Laureate’s words are brought to the Edinburgh Fringe by the young fresh faces of the Grey Dog Theatre Company. As a big lover of folklore, I was excited to see Duffy’s take on fairy tales as well as the promise of puppets, music and physical theatre.
All fifteen of the performers hustle and bustle on stage complete with suitcases and unmasked excitement. Myself and the audience were taken aback. May I repeat: FIFTEEN young actors all onstage at all times in a relatively small space? I was nervous and could hear occasional gasps from parents thinking things had gone wrong. Surely someone was going to trip or bang into someone? But the actors were calm and confident. After the first few minuets, I realised why. These guys had it down! And by that I mean, they knew the performance forward and backwards. The huge cast slipped seamlessly in and out of each other, handing props from here to there like a perfectly synchronised swarm. Every step, gesture and facial expression was carefully chosen and performed with extreme precision. Sometimes, the actors would cleverly play up to our worries by deliberately making mistakes with a smile and a wink, receiving a hearty laugh from the audience. It was, put simply, impressive.
The Grey Dog Theatre Company perform four stories along with songs to introduce each one. The first sticks true to the original style of folklore; dark, very dark. A strange choice to begin with, but with the use of signs, paint and of course bodies to portray different settings, characters and plot points, we relaxed into the play. The second and third are both comically light, and the fourth is the famous story of Beauty and the Beast with a more original, twisted plot line.
I would like to draw particular attention to ‘The Husband Who Was to Mind the House’ story, which was (I have to say) my favourite, complete with paper puppets, a lot of physical gags and an impressive performance from it’s lead. This energetic actor throws himself into each task (including being held upside down and drenched in water) whilst oozing a charming physical comedy that had the audience in stitches. Other favourable mentions are: the Beast, Blue Beard’s unfortunate wife and the narrator for Beauty & the Beast.
The songs were beautifully sung and instruments were played exceptionally well. However it was a great shame, as it was near impossible to make out the words. I assume the lyrics are similar to Duffy’s writing so were integral to the piece. I wished the singers had used more diction, as their voices sounded lovely, but made the audience restless between stories.
During the stories, I watched as little heads peered over shoulders to catch every bit of action. So much was happening all at once and no one wanted to miss a thing. The style is that of childhood make believe games, when you would use anything to hand in the excitement of bringing the story to life. The company do a great job of inhabiting the spirit of improvisation whilst also maintaining the tightly rehearsed structure.
The Grey Dog Theatre Company holds a lot of talent for such young actors, definitely a company to watch out for.