Beauty and the Beast is this year’s Christmas production at The Dukes and I was lucky enough to go and see it on opening night with my 7yo son and a friend with her son. Amazingly, we managed to arrive early, so took a seat in the cafe/bar area, which was a good opportunity to grab some refreshments to take through with us. When buying drinks from the bar, they just put them into a paper cup so we could take them through. The kids were delighted that we also got them a large bag of popcorn. When the theatre is ready for you to go through, staff make an announcement so you aren’t sitting worrying about whether you’ll miss it. There are also plenty of staff ensuring you know where you’re going. If you do arrive late, it’s nothing to worry about – they’ll just get you to wait until an appropriate moment and then escort you in.
The Round is an intimate setting, where every seat probably feels like the best seat in the house as it’s only 3 rows of seating, but on all 4 sides. We were on the front row and at first the kids were complaining about this – I think they felt it would be a little awkward, a little too ‘in your face’ being so close to the action, and they said they’d prefer to be further back. Also, they really weren’t good at waiting – were fidgety, announcing they were bored, wondering when it would start and so on…. You know when as a parent you sit there and have that moment wondering why you’d brought them, hoping it’ll work out ok and thinking how much more you might be able to relax and enjoy the show if you’d just come as a group of adults. We really shouldn’t have worried.
The show itself
The instant the show started, all the children in the theatre were mesmerised, as were ours. No more fidgeting or talking, they were transported to a different world along with us and we’d had nothing to worry about. In true Dukes style, there was a cast of only 5 actors, with each playing at least a couple of roles. When the gardeners opened the show talking about their dung pile and lots of different names for poo, it instantly told all the kids that this was on a level they could get down with. There was even a wheelbarrow with a steaming pile of poo in it that made it onstage twice!
The whole show was so cleverly done and so funny with kids and adults all enthralled in it, with levels of humour for all ages. We all loved the dog, he was hilarious and such a simple yet powerful addition to the story. Parts of the show were narrated by the gardener, bringing us in on (amongst other things) the joke that there were invisible characters who absolutely couldn’t be seen, when we could absolutely see them and they knew it.
The power of 5 people to tell a story together, with minimal props was really impressive. When Bella’s mum found herself in the forest that she’d been absolutely warned to stay away from, it was creepy and dramatic and quite wonderful, with moving trees and lighting and confusion. Again, in the castle, the use of actors as paintings on the wall in the hallway gave us a real sense of this mysterious place as well as entertaining us.
The Beast, of course was built up into this legendary character who must be avoided at all costs as he eats people and their blood and bones fertilises the land, making it so fertile. When the Beast finally appeared it was dramatic and a bit scary – children cuddled closer to parents, or crept onto laps, but he looked amazing. Once she realised he wasn’t going to eat her after all, Bella wasn’t impressed by the Beast’s traditional attempts to romance her, she was a woman who knew her own mind and was into stargazing rather than fancy food and silk dresses.
Fearing for Bella’s fate with the Beast, her mum and Lionel (the friendly neighbour and handyman), raced to attempt a rescue, importantly, bringing the secateurs. The slow motion showdown between mum and the Beast was my son’s favourite bit of the whole show. All comes good in the end of course, and rather than a happily ever after, which is an end, there was a celebration for the start of a new story for all the characters.
So, for the fidgety 2 boys on the front row, who had wanted seats further back and wondered whether it’d be any good, and the parents wondering whether the kids would manage to sit still….. It was an amazing night and the boys chatted all the way home about how good it had been, discussing their favourite bits, the most exciting bits, the funniest bits, their favourite characters and so on. There’s something so special about enjoying live theatre and seeing that your children are loving it too and totally absorbed in it. Would I have enjoyed it more without them there? Absolutely not, I’d have been loving it and wishing I could share the experience with them – am currently wondering whether I can persuade my teenager to come along to see it with me later this month. Was it too scary? No, the mild peril involved excited them, and all around I could see children from about age 3 up on the edge of their seats fascinated throughout. Other families were there with their older children, now teenagers – there was something in it for everyone.
On a practical note: the performance is split into 2 sections of about 50 minutes each, with an interval of roughly 20 minutes between them, giving you the chance to go to the loo, the bar, or buy a tub of ice cream. We went to a 7pm show and it finished at about 9.15pm.
Beauty and the Beast is running until the 31st December with midweek and weekend shows. Times vary each day so do check out the showtimes on the Dukes website. Tickets from £16 (discount for family ticket).