Actor Alan McHugh has been developing a sideline as the writer of a strand of psychologically disturbing Christmas shows at Glasgow's Citz. Where last year's Cinderella was a dark tale about absent mothers, this year's Beauty and the Beast is a rich metaphor about acquiring self-knowledge and taking a leap into the sexual unknown.
In a neat twist of convention, Gemma McElhinney's Beauty is all the things you expect her to be – generous, hard-working and true to her word – but also too squeaky-clean for her own good. Willingly clearing up after her father (a Dickensian merchant with a penchant for upturned aphorisms) and never passing judgment on her fun-loving sister, she represses her own animal urges in an Apollonian drive to do the right thing.
It can't last. "The wildness beats within me," she admits in one of the songs in Claire McKenzie's excellent jazz-Latin live score, before venturing off to meet the Beast in his house in the forest. She tells herself she is there to fulfil a promise made by her father, but really it is to embrace the thing of which she is most afraid.
The creature – a raggedy wolf-man played by Jim Sturgeon on Philip Witcomb's brooding, haunted-house set – is forever accompanied by the jealous witch who transformed him as punishment for his womanising ways. It means Beauty must navigate past her father's authoritarianism, her sister's hedonism, the witch's duplicity and the Beast's dark sexuality. By sticking to her principles and learning to love herself, she also manages to transform the other characters for the better.
The result, in Guy Hollands's serious-minded production, is lush, dreamlike, creepy and emotionally satisfying.
© Mark Fisher 2010
More coverage at theatreSCOTLAND.com
Sign up for theatreSCOTLAND updates
Sign up for theatreSCOTLAND discussion