Angela Carter's beastly fairytale
Thursday 17 May 2001 00.00 BST
he writer once referred to the fairytale Beauty and the Beast as a traditional means by which parents house-train their daughters' ids in preparation for obedient marriage. Her response was to write her own version in which the girl, lost by her feckless father to the beast at cards, goes on a journey of sexual self-discovery. The traditional transformation of beast into prince is brilliantly subverted by Carter in the story of a girl who becomes a woman by discovering the wild beast of desire within her.
Northern Stage's adaptation, in the Gulbenkian Studio at the Newcastle Playhouse, is very moist. It is the most erotic thing that I've seen on stage for years, although like most erotica it gets a bit dull after a while.
Neil Murray's production mixes almost continuous film and stage action with guttering candles and the heavy smell of incense. The result is dreamy and intense, putting the audience - like the girl - into a stupor of excitement and expectation. This is a clever, teasing piece of theatre that knows exactly where it is leading the audience. It builds to a brilliant orgasmic conclusion in which girl and beast meet and meld in a superbly choreographed physical sequence.
Normally in the theatre the idea of sex makes you want to giggle. But there is a muscularity about this evening that succeeds in making sex on stage very sexy indeed. That said, the piece is forced to make what is covert in the original story much more overt. The voiceover style and the use of cinematic technique, although great for creating atmosphere, often mean that what happens on stage is merely illustrative.
But it is impossible not to be seduced by this simply staged yet visually ravishing show. In the central performance, Rebecca Hollingsworth transforms from virginal young girl to heavy-eyed, swollen-lipped woman who slinks about the room like a cat on heat.