Shadow play brings a new twist to age-old fairy tale

Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast - Credit: Archant

A centuries-old theatrical tradition is being employed to great effect in the Company of Ten’s upcoming Christmas show, Beauty and the Beast.

The play, which was first staged at the National Theatre and opens at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans this week, 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 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 said: “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 mundane set changes appear magical and making props appear and disappear at will.

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In addition to shadow play, the production features elements of vaudeville, song and dance, and even live magic.

Like all the best fairy tales, the family show is a little scary in places so may not be suitable for some children under six.

Performances take place from tomorrow until Sunday (19-21) and from December 27 to 30 on the Abbey Theatre Main Stage. Times vary and further details can be obtained from the box office on 01727 857861 or go to