The Flaw in the Fairytale (or how to make a school pantomime part 2)

If I held you prisoner in my house against your will, and then later regretted it and set you free, would everything be okay?

This sounds like an extreme scenario. But it’s also a scenario at the centre of one of our most beloved fairytales.

It’s probably fair to say that most people today are familiar with Beauty and the Beast because of Disney’s classic version. And it’s no secret that most adaptations of fairytales work very hard to change, solve or gloss over some of the darker details.

But it’s one thing to watch an established retelling of a classic story, and an entirely different thing to create your own.

Every year West End in Schools creates a brand new pantomime for schools. For this year’s title, Beauty and the Beast, our writers Andrew and Alex went back to the original tale before writing their version.

But going to the core of the original story meant coming face to face with the story’s biggest challenges.

The importance of story

Alex the composer and two of our actors, Suzanna and Joseph, working on the songs

Alex the composer and two of our actors, Suzanna and Joseph, working on the songs

By the time we reached the rehearsal room to workshop Beauty and the Beast, the writers and director had already spent months developing the script. (You can read more about all of the previous steps in our first How to Make a Pantomime blog here.)

But one of the reasons why our pantomimes are consistently high quality, and consistently get great reviews, is because we don’t let ourselves off the hook when it comes to the story.

Our pantomime is developed exclusively for primary schools. We want to give the children a fun, entertaining and interesting story that encourages them to learn from the characters. It is our mission to take the children away on a magical journey that makes them forget they are sitting in their school hall, and believe in the characters and plot unfolding before them.

Surely then, the whole team involved in creating the show needs to 100% believe in the characters and plot as well?

Did we? On the first day of the workshop we weren’t sure.

We realised that the problem was not in the script and songs that Andrew and Alex had written, but in the original fairytale itself.

The workshop - testing out ideas

Above, our actors Elana and Craig. Below, writer Andrew, director Abi and dog Basil.

Above, our actors Elana and Craig. Below, writer Andrew, director Abi and dog Basil.

The workshop phase of a show is all about putting a script on its feet. It’s the moment when the show becomes theatre, rather than a script. It’s also the time when the uncertainties about the show are revealed for all to see.

Our director Abi went into the room with a carefully written schedule of all the scenes and sequences that we wanted to explore. But part of the joy of creating a new piece of theatre is that it’s unpredictable.

Some writers and directors might have ignored the questions about the story. After all, nearly every other adaptation of Beauty and the Beast has!

However midway through the workshop our script writer Andrew came back into the room, after some serious pondering over the plot, with a proposal for a major change in the story.

He found a solution to the problem.

We can’t tell you what that solution is yet, but will say that it beautifully resolves the moral issues with the story while making the characters more interesting and relatable as a result.

Curious? You’ll have to see the pantomime yourself!

Playing with the play

Some designs for the set and costumes

Some designs for the set and costumes

Of course, the workshop was not without hilarity as the actors and creative team experimented with the material.  

During the week we worked closely with Phil, our brilliant designer, who set up a crafts table in the middle of the rehearsal room. He was on-hand whenever we wanted a little theatrical magic, or a cardboard fish (who doesn’t want one of those?).

We also had a visit from costume designer Jonny, who’s job it is to transform our actors into the Beast, or an item of furniture.

We're really excited about what this panto will be by the time it's finished! It now has one more step in its journey before it goes into pre-production in November. That's the rehearsal in July, which is when the director and writers will stage it in full.

In the meantime remember to book a pantomime visit for your school this year! As well as Beauty and the Beast you can also book Aladdin, Cinderella, Jack and the Beast or Scroogical! (A Children's Christmas Carol). More information and songs are right here!