How long has it been since you’ve seen a Christmas production? About two years now…that’s a shocker. Stripped of our festive outings to the local theatre for some Christmas magic, the Pandemic really did squeeze all the joy out of our lives. But not this year, no sir.
Having been invited down to the Dukes’ rehearsals for their Christmas production of Beauty and the Beast, SCAN have all you need to know from sneak peaks into the creative process to chats with the cast and crew…behind closed doors.
The simultaneous fun and challenge of tackling a well-known story, as Daniel Bye, the writer of the show and co-director alongside Sarah Punshon, states is that when returning to the original fairytales, there is a lot of freedom given with how one can tell the story.
This year, the team is striving to deliver an entirely new take on the story, with the tale being narrated by gardeners working in a garden where they grow stories, symbolic for the idea of how we grow as people. You really can’t fault their creativity; the set and theatre will be decorated with hundreds of real verdant plants, adding a very distinctive look to the show – especially with many Christmas shows often going for a more wintery feel. While I was only treated to a model of how the final room will look, I’m very excited to see the final product, certainly innovative to say the least.
Continuing in this innovative channel, the production will feature original songs and choreography interspersed throughout the show, two of which I was fortunate enough to see performed during my visit. The actors I talked to spoke very highly of the songs as well as the choreography which very cleverly uses a lot of intricate movements, while creating the illusion of looking aesthetically pleasing yet simple to follow. There is something very endearing about experiencing songs and choreography that have been specially made for a performance; they give the piece a sense of nostalgia as you look back, humming the tunes.
One of the most striking aspects of the production will be the set. Taking place in the Dukes’ round auditorium, the cast will be performing in the centre of the room whilst the audience sits around them in a complete circle – filling the room from all sides. This will create a greater sense of intimacy and immersion for the audience; with the idea of there being ‘a best seat in the house’ removed, every audience member will have a unique view of the action.
This fosters a spirit of invention as the actors have to consider how to present the action clearly to all members of the audience. From my experience in the rehearsals, it easily becomes a comfortable and clear way of watching it. But as well as comfort, this production style will equally provide a very kinetic performance. Without large scale sets and backdrops, the small cast of five will use their bodies to represent the furniture and walls of the set in increasingly ingenious manners. An element of this production that should look quite spectacular during performances.
I’ll leave on the most celebrated aspect of this year’s production, the return of the audience. Given the rather tumultuous winter period last year, I think I can speak for all us that we’re excited to return to the typical festive season we all know and love. Whilst The Dukes aim to put on a Christmas show every year, last year’s socially distanced production of Sleeping Beauty was unfortunately cancelled due to lockdown restrictions but, Beauty and the Beast marks the return of their usual spectacle after a 2 year hiatus.
The Dukes are incredibly excited to be welcoming back kids, parents, students and the wider Lancaster community. Daniel Bye aligned the Dukes popularity with the breadth of their productions, comparing it, “to how Pixar achieves universal popularity with their acclaimed animated films, by blending jokes for the kids, jokes for the grown-ups, and emotional depth for all.”
After speaking with the actors, it was clear this excitement and energy has influenced their rehearsals for the show with every member of the cast buzzing to perform and show Lancaster this unique and inventive narration of Beauty and the Beast. Not only are the actors excited for their return to the stage, but also to perform to first and second-year university students who haven’t had the chance to see a premier Christmas Stage Show before.
As a student who may not usually attend something like this out of fear that the only other attendees would be families with kids, I found myself pleasantly surprised by how entertaining the production was shaping up. As well as the warm nostalgia, it reminding me of the Christmas shows I’d seen as a kid.
For any students who want a break from their busy workloads, this production can’t come recommended enough.
Beauty and the Beast runs from 3rd December to the 31st December. Tickets can be booked now from The Dukes’ website (https://dukeslancaster.org/)