Not so much an order as a strong suggestion borne out of a great love for ‘children’s stories’ and much less love for the dumbing down of children’s stories….
What am I talking about? Well, time for me to explain exactly where I’m coming from in terms of children’s stories on stage. I have always loved children’s stories, myths, legends, fairy tales – you name it, they’re great! Why?
Because they teach us about life in a way that is magical, beautiful, sometimes dark, sometimes quite scary, but always fair with an ending that usually uplifting (there are exceptions, but B&theB isn’t one of them). Bit like life really… Tales differ for ages of course, but there is ALWAYS a message underpinning the tale. Always something to learn, something that teaches us about how to act, how to love and how to live. This is why we should NOT dumb stories down to mere sugary, weak entertainment that does not engage a person (however old) at any level. Children may not sit around in discussion groups afterwards discussing the inner workings of the tale, but they get the message. We all do. I’m not suggesting we should scare our children in the name of entertainment or education – mostly that happens anyway through the dire events we see on the news, or the warnings we give our children about the dangers that lurk in our society. What the fairy tale teaches is is how we can (and should) strive to be the best person we can, how we CAN overcome the obstacles in our way to happiness, we CAN deal with the unpleasant/unhappy people in our lives without needing to shoot them first and wonder afterwards…. The perils in a fairy tale are always quite monstrous. Evil witches are around every corner, monsters and man-eating trolls lurk under bridges, wicked wolves wait in forests for passing people to gobble up, giants are notoriously bad tempered – it’s all there. They don’t always get transformed into good people, some hearts it seems are beyond redemption within the context of one tale, but it’s the journey that our heroine/hero embarks on that we follow. Tales are often linked to a time in history – there are some very dark tales out there that end VERY badly (Victorian cautionary tales anyone?), but we’re not in that land. So where are we in Beauty and the Beast. Can children understand it? Will they be engaged? Yes and yes I think. Children are all different in terms of what they find funny or scary and in what they are able to take on. How young? You need to be the judge of that from what you know of your children. I’ll tell you what I can of the show we’ve put together.
It’s true to the original tale of Beauty and the Beast.
It has funny characters, silly moments and a lot of light in it.
It has a troubled, moody Prince whose ill-nature causes him big problems.
It has magic and a fairy (you need magic…).
It has lots of songs and a few dance numbers.
It has moments that are very sad, some that are very romantic and, ultimately, will make you cry with happiness at the end.
It has characters that you can relate to at some level – that way it makes sense.
The Beast looks like a Beast in a few respects – not a cartoon version of a beast or a cute animal, but a man with tusks and bad hair. Apart from that he looks like a man. He is a character who LOOKS monstrous – he doesn’t look like the handsome Prince Beauty yearns for, but inside has changed from the moody Prince to a more gentle person. This is the central story – how you look is NOT who you are inside. Beauty can be evil inside and beastly looks can hide a heart that is full of love. This is what the story is about. The Prince gets into deep trouble because he judges the disguised fairy by her appearance and arrogantly treats her as an inferior in the worst possible way. Change your concept of ‘beauty’ and you can suddenly see it everywhere. And of course, don’t judge other people – you don’t know who they really are with or without ‘disguise’. Anyway, I’m sure you knew that, but it’s a great tale!
So … should you bring children? Yes, I think you should. If they are old enough for this sort of tale, if they can understand to some degree what is going on then bring them along.