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Young Cast Bring Classic Tale to Life
Stuck for ideas on things you can do locally with the kids, this school holidays? For families on the Lower North Shore, Marian Street Theatre for Young People (MSTFYP) is hosting its new production of Wendy Blaxland's Beauty and the Beast, from 1 – 15 July, in a joint venture with Knox Grammar School.
Beauty and the Beast cast live on stage (image c/o- MSTFYP)
I was delighted to attend the opening performance of the season on 1st July and was taken aback by the professionalism of the teen cast, from Marian Street Theatre Drama School, some of whom were appearing for the first time in front of a live audience.
Talented teens (L to R) - Eliane Jones, Lucy Firth, Hannah Frohlich, Marie Hawcroft, Connor Lawrance and Luca Thomas (image c/o- Jessica Blaxland Ashby)
MSTFYP is an interesting story of itself. It has been producing quality theatre for children, by children, for over 45 years. Its amateur performers are given an unparalleled experience of working with a professional team of directors, playwrights and production crew, for a twelve-week rehearsal period and a two-week performance run of twice daily shows.
This simulates the professional run of a show and as Artistic Director, Margie McCrae says, "it is an exciting theatre for children, with a safe and creative environment for them to learn theatre skills." With a rounded experience of acting, staging and front of house, "there is no other young people's theatre in Australia with this kind of all-encompassing experience."
Leading man Connor Lawrance is one to watch (image c/o- MSTFYP)
But what of the play itself? Prolific playwright and children's author, Wendy Blaxland , has adapted the beloved fairy tale for an audience of 3 – 10 years. Beauty and the Beast's iconic elements are infused with fun, humour and interactivity. It is played skilfully by a colourful cast of characters including Boswell, the talking horse, Bella's silly sisters Anne and Sophia, an enchanted Storyteller, the Beast's matchmaking servant and a lamb chop-loving famer and his talking sheep-dog, Tamworth.
Stefani Morris' Tamworth is especially skilled at audience interaction (image c/o- MSTFYP)
The original Beauty and the Beast tale is a sombre and at times terrifying account of true love's triumph but this telling is far more accessible to a junior theatre audience and parents won't be disappointed, either. The production is endearing with an enthusiastic group of young actors who gel brilliantly as a cast, with many taking on the demands of multiple roles, requiring quick costume, staging and character changes.
A touching moment between the Beast and Marie Hawcroft's Bella (image c/o- Marian Street Theatre)
There are elements of pantomime in the performance, though the musical score, composed by Jenny Jackson, achieves gravitas when required, with touching solos conveying Bella and The Beast's burgeoning love. Ever with the age of the audience in mind, the musical numbers are short and sweet, with a welcome balance between dialogue and song.
Director (and professional actor) Brigid O'Sullivan, has done a superb job shaping the performances of her young cast, whose task of holding the attention of kids, is not for the feint hearted. O'Sullivan feels "privileged to work with young people who have put in so much hard work and commitment", advising it is these qualities and not just talent which will take them places.
Margie McCrae and Brigid O'Sullivan are proud of their young cast (image c/o- MSTFYP)
I review theatre frequently and I was struck by the professionalism of the staging, the costuming, the props and the seamlessness of scene changes. If these elements pull together well, you can focus on the performances and I predict big futures ahead for the charismatic Connor Lawrance and ethereal Storyteller Lucy Firth. Marie Hawcroft in her debut stage performance as Bella is to be commended for a sensitive portrayal and beautiful singing voice and the supporting cast was full of promise, with great comic timing and excellent voice projection.
Wendy Blaxland - playwright and champion for MSTFYP (image c/o- Zebedee Maguire)
I have no hesitation recommending this production and tickets for the school holiday performances are selling fast, so don't miss out. And keep in mind MSTFYP's next production in the September vacation – Aladdin's Tales, adapted by Catherine Martin and Jenny Jackson.
And in a happy footnote, I'm pleased to share that the Friends of Marian Street Theatre have had a momentous win on 28 June. Ku-ring-gai Council has voted to support the restoration and re-opening of the theatre's traditional home in Killara. Marian Street has a firm place in the hearts of Sydney's northern residents and if you would like to support the theatre and its restoration and future productions, visit Marian Street Theatre for Young People and Save Marian Street Theatre .