Fairytales with a twist
Anthony Clark's Pinocchio (Birmingham Rep to January 25, 0121 236 4455) is unlikely to join his fine adaptations of The Red Balloon and The Snowman in the repertory.
It's too much of a lumbering musical. The best theatre versions of traditional stories are tough and explore important concerns in a way young audiences can respond to. Here, Carlo Collodi's late 19th century moral prescriptions come across as unsubtly as the message of "Once in Royal David's City" ("Christian children all must be Mild, obedient, good as He").
It made me think back longingly to Teatro Kismet's simpler, brisker and more exciting version seen last year at Nottingham and on tour. And the more clunking dialogue sections of Jan Page's Beauty and the Beast (New Vic, North Staffordshire to January 18, 01782 717962) only remind how well Stuart Paterson handles this, and many other folk-based Christmas tales. Yet despite some unmagical sprites in Peter Cheeseman's New Vic production, this show remains something to lift the spirits, thanks largely to Jo Dawson's lighting and the strong playing of Emma Jay Thomas as Beauty. Page opens with a prologue showing a group of lager lout (mead moron?) knights harassing an old woman who punishes one by turning him into the Beast. The fairytale use of an outer quest as metaphor for self-discovery is made clear in one of the songs set to John Kirkpatrick's attractive folk and medieval tinged music.
From Scandinavia, East of the Sun, West of the Moon is another beast and beauty tale. Anthony Ravenhall's production of his own version for NTC (with Cleveland Theatre Company, touring to February 1. 01665 602586), plays intimate village halls in the round. The three-person cast creates spectacular effects for a magical voyage, develops character through humorous touches and works as an ensemble in which Emma Cleasby's resourceful heroine, searching for the castle to free her lover, is set off by an array of folk played by Jo-Anne Horan and Harrison Philips. They even avoid embarrassment in the politically incorrect end which suggests a woman's true love shows in being able to wash the spots out of her man's shirt.
The Terrible Grump is how young people often see adults. This latest in Northern Stage company's series of participatory plays for the up-to-6s (Newcastle-upon-Tyne Gulbenkian Studio to January 11, 0191 230 5151) by Chris Speyer with music by Ieuan Goch ab Einion takes young Ocarina (a lively Jacquelyn Hynes) on a search for lost music shut away by the eponymous misery, who has a fair resemblance to her father. Older family members are distanced by speaking in patterned verse and audience imaginations are stimulated as the everyday kitchen turns into an adventure wonderland, a cupboard opening out into an exotic forest, when Ocarina meets new, music-loving friends from an imaginary world.
A quick recommendation for a Yorkshire Christmas: Ayckbourn's The Champion of Paribanou, Scarborough, Stephen Joseph to January 4, 01723 370541 (see TES, December 13) is also a good introduction to the serious concerns of many of his "adult" plays, while Matthew Warchus revives his Peter Pan (Leeds Quarry to January 18, 0113 244 2111), offering spectacle - a full stage, tale-swishing crocodile - while also taking the characters for real.
Never have the answers to questions in the dialogue seemed so important, while the last moment switch to a modern child in the Darlings' bedroom affirms the continuity of imagination, and of childhood's concern with love and loss. Recently-formed North Country Theatre, with Charivari, offers director Nobby Dimon's free adaptation of the Wakefield Second Shepherd's Play as Mak the Sheep Stealer (to January 11, 01748 825221). Its virtues are vigour, precise comic playing and fine, unfamiliar carol settings; minor drawbacks, an unnecessary interval plus inept jokes and music in the second part.
OTHER PRODUCTIONS INCLUDE
Bolton Octagon Stripy Tales, Neil Duffield's animal stories for 3-8s, to January 11, 01204 520661
Bristol Old Vic Cinderella panto to January 25, 0117 987 7877
Cardiff Sherman The BFG to January 11, 01222 230451
Dundee Rep Theatre The Wizard of Oz to January 11, 01382 223530
Ipswich Wolsey The Secret Garden to January 18, 01473 253725
Manchester Library A Little Princess to January 18, 0161 236 7110
Mold Theatr Clwyd The Snow Queen Stuart Paterson's play to January 18, 01352 755114
Newcastle upon Tyne Playhouse Merlin the Magnificent. Stuart Paterson's Arthurian twists to January 11, 0191 230 5151
Northampton Royal Mother Goose panto to January 25, 01604 32533
Southampton Nuffield Peter Pan to January 18, 01703 671771
Warwick Arts Centre Good King Wenceslas by Jeannette Ranger and Christopher Lillicrap to January 11, 01203 524524
Watford Palace Puss in Boots to January 11, 01923 225671
York Theatre Royal Mother Goose with Berwick Kaler to January 25, 01904 623568.