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Fringe Online 2020

Low Down

With Book by Anna Ledwich, Music and Lyrics Richard Taylor, it’s directed by Dale Rooks with Set Designer Simon Higlett , Costume Designer Ryan Dawson Laight, Lighting Designer James Whiteside. Sound Designer Gregory Clarke, Movement Director Lizzi Gee, Puppetry Nick Barnes

Musical Arrangements Richard Taylor with Musical Director Colin Billing  Assistant Director Lauren Grant

Musical Director / Keyboard Colin Billing, Woodwind Gavin Tate-Lovery, Woodwind Sarah Watson, Viola Jason Glover Upright Bass / Bass Guitar Stephen Street, Percussion / Orchestra Management Mark Taylor. To return and will be on demand.


So here’s the spiel. A daft prince cursed to a life alone in a castle; a kind and beautiful girl who asks her father for nothing but a rose (aah). Form books on table, though it’s the 1940s: so one needs to learn to love and be loved, the other more quickly realises there’s more than meets the eye. As it happens for us, a lot more. Pay attention because there’s two stories here.

There’s role-swaps throughout this Chichester festival production, but we’re caught in glorious aspic in 2018, and it’s enchanting. Here the role falls to Hal Darling who monsters in the part, the raging beast who slowly shades true colours (he’s got a lot of those, mainly snot green) when he effectively abducts Beauty into his life, on a plea-bargain to free her erring father’s who – yes plucked that rose. Not just any rose either. Not a prick of conscience till there’s a roar.

Opposite Hal on Tuesday is Mia Cunningham-Stockdale as Beauty, a part she carries with heart-stopping aplomb and an assurance so clearly completely natural you wonder where she’s going next. I hope we’ll find out soon.

1940s, a farming narrative gives us a blast of ensemble and a moral frame: a group of children have been evacuated to a dingy spacious manor house out of bomb’s way. There’s a rather forbidding housekeeper drills them in obedience, where there’s a rumour of a monster and a shrouded portrait drifts past. It’s story-time. Then we’re in a narrative of a feckless family, seemingly very recent, also in wartime conditions: a widower with selfish children berating him for their drop of affluence.

Only his favourite, Beauty never complains, getting on with planting vegetables for them to eat (really digging for victory) whilst the others clamour for ribbons. When the father’s off to discover what’s happened to one of his ships, Beauty’s request is the modest one we know.

The two offer tonally touching love duets, Beast all harrumph then begging, slyly. Beauty’s initially justified in berating her solitude, and at drawing a short straw in her feckless father’s plea-bargain. So there’s an antiphonal harrumphing duet, but then Beauty slowly melts to the horticultural warmth Beast glows with.

It’s a tale about seeing that beauty’s only – well sin deep might be too sophisticated but you get the picture (yes that portrait in the framing opening and closing scenes…). Darling and Cunningham-Stockdale show the emerging, reluctant emulation preceding all love matches with a hesitant delicacy, an intimacy that’s just a little breath-taking. Each portrays steps forward and sideways the Book dictates with naturalism and shy comedy.

Cunningham-Stockdale’s superb, and darling, only ever seen in relation to her, seems master of his role. He after all has to transform vocally as well as shed his skins.

There’s a semiotic warmth to their unfolding feelings. Beast un-creaks through invitations to dinner that for a month are sulkily declined; but realises the way to Beauty’s heart lies tiptoeing through his garden. Beauty sees through a virid horror which in this video’d production shows a few of the really young audience in tears. CFT offers appropriate age guidance.

Cue sunshine: and with more than a pinch of John Inman Crispin Glancy minces his costumier in a delicious turn. There’s telling detail in his movement, dance routines and a truth out of a flounce. Glancy rivets attention, his gorgeous apparel merely shimmering his movement.

Winston the horse acted by Jennifer Goodier is a show-stealer snorting to a dromedary immortality.

It was sadly impossible to access and thus appraise other parts, but the four mentioned were outstanding.

With book by Anna Ledwich, and Music and Lyrics by Richard Taylor – who gave us Flowers for Mrs Harris – we have another attractive musical and score. Melodically it’s memorable at the time even if it fades a little afterwards. What makes it memorable is recalling that enchanting quartet, particularly the leads.

It’s directed by with panache and sympathy by Dale Rooks with Simon Higlett’s swirling  set beautifully purposed, costume by Ryan Dawson Laight, and given the versatility of fast-moving scenes, that all-important function of lighting – James Whiteside knows how to melt gothic shadows and eerie caverns with shafts of humanity, and it’s needed in key scenes. Sound by Gregory Clarke billows out but is crisp and never overpowering. Movement by Lizzi Gee is telling – there’s not just that ensemble of children to return like oxygen filling a vacuum but swooping in the wondrous puppetry of Nick Barnes.

Musical Arrangements were also Richard Taylor’s with musical director Colin Billing and his delicately punchy band.

The 1940s is a clue to what we can take from this superb adaptation. The narrative’s absolutely locked into a fable that’s framed by a vey unexpected love story. Those zooming children will wake up next morning echoing just a little of Beauty’s wisdom, but in a real world. Nothing so convincing has been done with this legend. It deserves many revivals.