It was an interesting move to make Portsmouth the setting for this retelling of Beauty and the Beauty and so make the New Theatre Royal itself one of the characters.
But it’s a move which doesn’t quite pay off in a show which ultimately leaves the impression that it isn’t quite sure what it is trying to be.
The second half is excellent, everything coming together nicely, the whole thing carried by an appropriately-beautiful performance from Kirsty-Anne Shaw as Beauty. Timothy Lucas adds plenty of fun as Frederick, the preening, in-love-with himself villain of the piece; and Jamie Papanicolaou as Beauty’s brother Will is key to the mix.
But you can’t help feeling that this is a show which needed to have the courage of its convictions.
A straight 19th-century retelling would have been the bolder option and certainly the more successful, but this is a version which every now and again reminds itself it wanted to be a pantomime, throws in a rather random song and offers a bit of slapstick. It breaks its own magic, not least when Father Christmas suddenly turns up.
And in a first half where a theatrical troupe subplot doesn’t particularly seem part of anything, it’s difficult not to feel that the strangest beast here is the show itself. The show promised something genuinely different but simply seems muddled, neither one thing, nor the other. The mumbled, confusing prologue doesn’t help.
However, the second half certainly perks up and gets much more into its stride. Even so, the whole thing still seems like an opportunity missed.