Beasts and Beauties

Long sausages of black pudding get stuck on noses, a goat craps gold and a dog joins forces with a fox in this winning selection of eight fairy tales and folk stories gleaned from across Europe and wittily retold by poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy.

In the expert hands of Melly Still and Tim Supple, these warning tales (interspersed with folk songs) are brought to imaginative life – sometimes scary, sometimes gruesome but always engaging – as the cast swaps roles, costumes and acting styles with each new story.

Director Still maintains the magic of theatre, yet hides nothing – so, at the end of his murderous tale, Bluebeard checks with the audience that he’s removed all the colour as he rubs his beard clean with a towel. Jason Thorpe, carrying an udder-pink rubber glove, dons fake lashes and a massive tweedy skirt to become a lugubrious cow stuck on the roof when a grumbling farmer and his wife swap roles – disastrously – for a day. He’s pretty impressive, too, as an ancient canine rolling over for tummy tickles, and as an ugly troll who steals a little girl’s magic gifts, given to her by the North Wind.

Jack Tarlton makes a fearsome Beast with overgrown teeth and talons, then bravely bares almost all in a clever updating of The Emperor’s New Clothes – his modesty just preserved in a series of deftly choreographed manoeuvres. And in The Juniper Tree a little boy is decapitated by his stepmother, then minced (with every detail clearly seen in silhouette) and served up to his dad for supper.

Don’t worry if you can’t find a child to take with you – this inventive production is a seasonal treat for anyone from 8 to 80 who still has a sense of fun. Just go and enjoy.


Hampstead Theatre, Eton Avenue, NW3 3EU
020 7722 9301
Tube: Swiss Cottage
Until 31st December
Adults £18 children £12

– Louise Kingsley