Imagine a reform school for baddies, where Captain Hook and the Big Bad Wolf are taught the errors of their ways. That’s the setting for this show by Sleeping Trees, who have made fairytale mashups their festive stock-in-trade. Adding two (and more) stories together may not multiply the narrative impact: a great story Sleeping Beauty and the Beast is not. But under Kerry Frampton’s direction, the show effortlessly connects with its juvenile audience – and always promises a decent joke around the next corner.
The show is framed as the outcome of a disagreement between pompous James Dunnell-Smith, avid to stage his pretentious script, and his four co-stars, who want to improvise. The script, to James’s disgust, has gone AWOL – but instead of improv in its place, we get this slung-together, dressing-up box confection, in which Joshua Smith’s Beast and Jamal Franklin’s Belle run a “goodie-versity” for penitent villains. We’re deep into act one before the emergence of a plot, concerning a sleeping draft administered to Beast and the threat that this year’s “good-uation” may not proceed. But the stakes remain low: who wants Big Bad Wolves to be reformed anyway?
In all its talk of goodies and baddies, there is none of the thoughtfulness brought to bear on that subject by Baddies: the Musical, in 2015. Nor is the dramatic action always coherent: it’s unclear why a set of scales gets treated as an incriminating clue to the poisoner’s identity. There are missed opportunities in the staging, too: Beast’s dance routine, set up to be a showstopper, is – when finally performed – a squib.
The pleasure, then, has little to do with story or characters, which are flimsy. It’s found instead in the irreverent gags (Captain Hook being recruited as the school’s head of IT) and apropos-of-nothing sequences – Cornflake Colin’s cameo in Dreamland, or the enforced casting of wannabe auteur James as a stroppy spook, christened by an audience member as “Nicegirl the Ghost”. There’s no danger of Sleeping Beauty and the Beast joining its component folktales in the Christmas canon. But – particularly for kids – its dotty, knockabout charms are ample compensation.
At Battersea Arts Centre, London, until 30 December.