Playwright Lewis Hetherington presents a refreshing new take on the traditional tale of Sleeping Beauty at Platform this Christmas. Addressing the fact that in the regular re-telling poor beauty is either off stage or in her bed sleeping throughout most of the production. This time our “B” (Yolanda Mitchell) is a feisty teenager with an independent spirit, confined by her loving dad Jimmy (Irene Allan) (who loves to dress up and impersonate Elvis) to the family mattress shop, but B longs for bigger things and a world outside the four walls. She sneaks out every night to the local woods with her trusty dog Rocket (Itxaso Moreno) looking for adventure. There is, of course, a curse, but there’s a twist in the tale that you’ll have to go along and find out.
This is an atmospheric, engaging fairy tale where gripping storytelling is at the front and centre of the production. There are moments of real darkness and light throughout. There are also plenty of the usual panto tropes to satisfy the traditionalists: an evil queen (Jo Freer) and her sidekick (Julia Nsimba); a spooky forest; magical creatures; puns a-plenty. It’s chock-full of familiar hits with cleverly re-written lyrics all sung by the hugely talented, fine-voiced cast. The cast are strong and cohesive and drive the action along. The fantastic set by Claire Halleran is relatively simplistic but fills the stage perfectly and looks gorgeously creepy. The set is also complemented by creative lighting by Michaella Fee. Lewis Heatherington’s Sleeping Beauty delivers throughout and serves us up the much-wanted happy ending.
The economical running time (just over an hour) is perfect to keep the tiniest audience members fully engaged and the ticket prices are affordably priced for many. This is (slightly non-) traditional storytelling at its best. Platform in Easterhouse is a true gem in the East End and the constant, consistently highly quality of their productions deserve to be seen by as wide an audience as possible, Sleeping Beauty is no exception.
In Rona Munro’s Iron,lifer Fay has spent the last fifteen years in prison for murdering her husband. For the first time, her now grown-up daughter Josie visits, trying to piece together the fragments of her forgotten past and find out what happened the night her father was killed.
Over time their bond is slowly rebuilt, with Fay attempting to help Josie remember life before Fay was sent down, but Fay’s delight in re-establishing her relationship with her daughter is also overshadowed by her obvious need to live vicariously through her. Despite the prison setting this is fundamentally a story about a relationship between a mother and daughter and the subtle manipulations that can occur between both. Over the course of the piece realisation dawns that both would be much happier if they stayed apart.
The setting is stark, an illuminated rectangle, the prison world outside the walls of the visiting room represented by distant sounds of doors clanging shut and random screams. The air hangs heavy with the grimness of prison life. The staging is by necessity rather static, but director Richard Baron avoids losing the audience’s attention by moving the actors around and providing dramatic contrast in the interactions between the prison guards and some atmospherically lit flights of fancy for Josie and Fay.
Blythe Duff, best known for her role as DC Jackie Reid in Taggart, is acting on the other side of the judicial divide as Fay. Masterfully manipulating both the conversation and the actions of her rediscovered daughter. Duff gives a tour de force performance, skilfully turning the conversation and her emotions on a knife edge, subtly slipping into a warm anecdote a glimpse of the brutal truth of her relationship with her husband, switching from machine gun banter to guarded silence in an instant, it is she who holds the audience gripped throughout. The supporting cast while adept, don’t have the magnetic pull of Duff.
Munro’s writing allows us to get to know these women and to care about what happens to them, painting as it does a grim, heartbreaking insight into prison life and human relationships, but the piece is unnecessarily wordy. The writing is beautifully lyrical and both women speak eloquently of their pains and desires but at two and a half hours long some of the emotional impact and momentum is lost in this otherwise compelling play.