The Belgrade Theatre has turned to one of the world's best-loved fairytales for this summer's spectacle in Coventry's Cathedral ruins, writes Terry Grimley...
Long established as the venue for revivals of the medieval Mystery Plays, the ruins of Coventry Cathedral play host to a re-telling of another familiar story this week.
The Belgrade Theatre is presenting Beauty and the Beast in a new version masterminded by John Wright, founder-director of maverick freelance production company Told By An Idiot.
Set up by Wright - also a co-founder of Trestle Theatre Company - together with Paul Hunter and Hayley Carmichael circa 1993, Told By An Idiot has a a distinctive style which is to have no style, preferring to start afresh with each project.
"We've done ten or 12 shows all over the world," John Wright told me during a break in rehearsals. "Sometimes Paul directs, sometimes I direct. We all work with different companies as well, because we want to grow as individual artists."
However, this is a Belgrade rather than a Told By An Idiot project, arising from an invitation from Belgrade producer Jane Hytch. Nevertheless it was a personal project for Wright.
"As it's evolved I've followed my usual method of doing development workshops on it. We ended up with a curious document - 40 pages of stage directions that go through perhaps 18 scenes. So the actors have written the show, and I've facilitated it. And of course I've drawn on a cast of actors we have worked with in Told By An Idiot."
Though a new version, the show re-visits one of the most familiar and archetypal of fairy stories.
"We're trying to tell a story that's part self-explanatory, but at the same time it has layers. It's a familiar story told in a different way. We're talking about a whole-family audience and it's going to be as funny as it's dramatic.
"We're pushing both things - it's dramatic, but you laugh. It's unmistakably theatrical. Adults won't feel they're watching a children's show."
While at its best Beauty and the Beast has inspired such classics as the Jean Cocteau film, reviewers who have overdosed on less inspired versions may wonder whether even such classic stories don't eventually wear out. What is it that inspires artists to keep revisiting this one?
"It's a very, very popular story. It takes some vital archetypes about fear of change," suggests John Wright.
"It became a homily telling polite young ladies about how they should behave, so we have an independent female, who gives as good as she gets. The father is in trouble with the law, and is chased into the Beast's garden. She's not going to be a quiet, obedient young lady.
"There are still elements of fear, but it's about how change can be harnessed, how we can be enabled by it."
The show is performed by an international cast of seven actors, four men and three women.
"We're trying to play in very upfront commedia style. We're using big gestures so you can read what's going on.
"I think it's a lovely theatrical space, but we don't want to make a promenade of it. There's a dynamic in the building which makes it quite clear where you're meant to stand. So we've built a large transverse stage, which strongly changes the space into a theatre. It means everyone can see, and it makes it a very vivid space."
Lighting in the atmospheric outdoor arena will also have a crucial role to play.
"There's no lighting at 8.30pm when we start. By 9pm we're into lighting and by 9.30pm we're finally into the more magical elements."
* The Belgrade Theatre presents Beauty and the Beast in the Cathedral ruins until August 6 at 8.30pm (Box office: 0247655 3055).