Shadows add more magic to Beauty and the Beast
A centuries-old theatrical tradition is being employed to extraordinary effect in the Company of Ten’s upcoming Christmas show, Beauty and the Beast.
The play, which was first staged at the National Theatre, draws on a range of storytelling genres, including shadow play. An ancient form of entertainment originating in Asia and southern Europe, the discipline is enjoying a surge of popularity thanks to modern-day troupes such as Attraction, winners of last year’s Britain’s Got Talent.
Traditionally, the art form uses puppets combined with lighting and special screens to create dramatic silhouettes, but modern shadow theatre often employs live actors – the technique employed in the Company of Ten production.
Director Angela Stone says: “While most of the play features actors in costume speaking dialogue, we also have two fairy-narrators who link the scenes as well as revealing the back story of how the Beast became the Beast. It is these parts of the story which are acted out in shadow play.
“Rather than puppets, our shadow-people are four very talented young actors from the St Albans-based performing arts academy Act Now. Aged between 17 and 22, they are highly skilled in mime and physical theatre, and using only their bodies, they can convey everything from a giant king to a small boy. The effect is really quite breathtaking.”
As well as performing in the shadow play scenes, the four actors double up as mysterious, shadowy figures in the Beast’s castle, making set changes appear magical and making props appear and disappear at will.
In addition to shadow play, the production features elements of vaudeville, song and dance, and even live magic. Please note, like all the best fairy tales, this family show is a little scary in places, so may not be suitable for some children under six.
Performances take place from 19-22 and 27-30 December on the Abbey Theatre Main Stage. You can book your tickets here.