We all dream of happy endings. We grow up with great fairy tales promising a “happily ever after” and even as grown-ups living in a world of financial crisis, one-night stands and bad take-away coffee we dream of that little magic spell that’ll give us the prince and half the kingdom. It’s an idiot-proof fairy tale recipe. But what really happens after the kiss and the words “The End”?
Sleeping Beauty is woken by true love’s kiss. Her handsome prince breaks the spell and happiness is once again bestowed upon the kingdom. Or so it’s supposed to be. But as the princess awakes the royal family must face a kingdom that is no longer dominated by dragons, knights and fairy godmothers but feisty Londoners who spend their lives inside their iPhones and get their food from Tesco. The play begins where the old story ends – with the kiss. What will happen to the princess and the kingdom as the modern world interferes – and will our storyteller be able to bring all the pieces together for our happy ending?
Set in a dark industrial corner of Peckham, The Last Refuge isn’t exactly a venue you’d expect to host medieval kings and queens. But it’s like entering the world of the Grimm Brothers – it’s quirky and homely and matches Rebel Theatre’s Beyond Beauty’s intimate child’s game that means you get wrapped up in a blanket. It’s set in the coldest theatre on earth – but as you are wrapped up and lulled into the sweetness of the play and it’s bubbly cast there is a sense of togetherness and bliss that warms even the frostiest of toes.
The strong ensemble is led by Natalie Harman, the talkative storyteller. Harman is not afraid of addressing her audience up front so there is no time for napping; we are constantly being thrown around the story as she manipulates her actors with a simple click of her fingers. The cast members work extremely well together and never lose sense of each other and where the play is headed. Cate Hamer explodes with incredible onstage energy as the Grand Duchess/the Evil Fairy, while Katie Scarfe’s Queen is worth a comedy award. But it is David Eaton who steals the show as Jack, the storyteller’s right-hand man who is forced to play all the extra parts. As he doubles roles and switches between different accents, ages and professions you have to force yourself to behave and try not to laugh too hysterically.
Simon Pollard’s direction is simple, yet effective, and it’s beautifully supported by Scott Pryce-Jones mesmerising lighting. It sets a medieval and rural intimacy alongside Richard Norris and Lydia Samuels’s music and sound design which is a joy for all senses.
The whole play runs extremely smoothly and it is a relief just to sit back and enjoy the simple tale of life’s expectations and how nothing ever goes as planned – without any abstract gimmicks or tragedies, just a simple fairy tale turned real.
Beyond Beauty is playing at The Last Refuge in Peckham until 15 December. For more information and tickets, see www.thelastrefuge.co.uk