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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me @markffisher and @writeabouttheat I am an Edinburgh-based freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian, Scotland on Sunday and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success, published in February 2012 and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers published in July 2015. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide. See my website for more information and comprehensive Scottish theatre links.
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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Caged, theatre review

Published in Northings

Caged

Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh, 28 March 2011, and touring

BEAUTY AND the Beast is an allegory about the union between a man and a woman. On the one hand, we have the beast, a symbol of maleness at its most extreme: hairy, aggressive and emotionally illiterate. On the other, we have Beauty, the epitome of those traditionally feminine qualities of compassion, empathy and love. Thrown together in a castle in the Freudian darkness of a mysterious wood, they slowly learn from each other and, in so doing, experience a romantic awakening.

The story’s archetypal power is undiminished in Catherine Wheels’ superb version, re-titled Caged in Rob Evans’ script, even though there is a shift in the portrayal of Beauty. Despite actor Rosalind Sydney having many of the plus-points any tyrannical beast would look for in a house guest – she always puts on a brave smile, keeps the place well aired and tidy, and does her best to make conversation – she is far from being a push-over. Indeed, there is something shocking about the way she rejects the overtures made by Andy Manley as Mr Hunter, aka the beast, as he makes a clumsy pass at her. Refusing to play the helpless girl-child, she tells him outright there’s no way she would marry him.

Her hard-line stance makes you feel sorry for Mr Hunter, despite his violent temper and lack of etiquette. With his feline movements and animalistic clicks and grunts, Manley is every bit the beast, not just a deformed man but a wild, uncivilised creature without any experience of human interaction. On one level, he is terrifying ­­– which is why the show is pitched at 8 and over – but on another level, he is just trying to make the most of an emotionally deprived upbringing. He is socially inept but he has soul.

We know which way the story is going, of course, but this is a clash of equals and a happy ending will only be on mutual terms. For much of the hour-long show, you’re convinced they’ll never work it out.

The performances are great and so too is Gill Robertson’s production. She uses Evans’ script as a jumping-off point for a rich, atmospheric and polished piece of theatre that communicates its gothic power as much through the music of David Paul Jones and the lighting of Lizzie Powell as it does through the dialogue. Whole scenes, in fact, are wordless, as the two actors run around the marble hour-glass table at the centre of Karen Tennent’s set, suggesting corridors, staircases and starlit vistas with the most economical of means.

It’s a thrilling, gripping, moving performance – genuinely one for the whole family – which falters only in the last moments with a too-speedy ending, but leaves you with the deep sense of satisfaction of an archetypal tale being vividly retold. (Pic: Douglas McBride)

© Mark Fisher 2011

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