Awaking Beauty, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough; Great Expectations, Library Theatre, Manchester

Ayckbourn puts lust into his anti-fairy tale

The princess gets her prince and the witch gets her pig, so you could say that all ends well in Sir Alan Ayckbourn's 70-second piece for theatre, Awaking Beauty. But in this slight comedy, a musical created with Denis King, and "filled with lust, laughter and just a little love", according to Ayckbourn, what begins as a quirky take on the Sleeping Beauty myth, with more than a little sexual innuendo, becomes an unsatisfactory social satire intended for an adult audience.

After jumping into bed with Aurora, the Prince wakes to find himself with the witch Carabosse. But bewitched into adoring her, the Prince is unable to love her as she desires, so Carabosse goes off to the city to be transformed into an alluring woman. But not before she's taken advice from the Sorceress (a splendid pantomime dame turn from Matthew White). The Princes – Aurora having taken her husband's name – settle down in the suburbs, have triplets, and struggle to exist in the real world. Prince stacks shelves and Mrs Prince is visited by Carabosse who, pretending to be a marketing executive, offers her a rosy red apple to bite ...

This allusion to the plot of Snow White is only one of several stories referenced in passing. My Fair Lady gets a look-in too, when, after her transformation from hag to covergirl, Carabosse is given elocution exercises to sing. Stephen Sondheim also lurks in the twists and turns of this anti-fairy tale. Anna Francolini's Carabosse, Verity Quade's cosmetic surgeon and Ben Fox's snorting Pigcutter stand out in an admirable 10-strong ensemble.

There are too many tangled strands, as if Ayckbourn's narrative thread had become snagged and diverted by the overgrown branches through which the Prince has to cut his way to the palace. Yet Ayckbourn, who also directs, relies on old-fashioned theatre values allowing his craftsmanship to stand out in a genre where money and technology rule.

He may be standing down as artistic director of the theatre in January (he's 70 next spring) but his successor Chris Monks will surely want more from the pen of this most fluent of writers. He may produce something more remarkable than Awaking Beauty and less like candyfloss spiked with chilli.

It's a striking idea to have Pip launch his own story in Great Expectations by hammering a huge circular disc on which his past flashes past in a video montage. This dramatic gesture, I gather, is repeated when he arrives in London. But unfortunately it occurs too far upstage to be seen by a sizeable portion of the audience so whatever great expectations one had of Neil Bartlett's adaptation of Dickens's novel are immediately frustrated.

Director Roger Haines doesn't bring this Dickens epic to life as cogently as his interpretation of Bartlett's Oliver Twist in 2005 but it's a far harder story to carry off. There's a lot to pack in and while the adaptation lacks nothing in integrity (Bartlett uses only Dickens's own words), the balance between the three stages of Pip's life is weighed too heavily on the earlier part.

Pip is given an appealingly unaffected portrayal by Leon Williams, ageing imperceptibly with the passage of time. Richard Heap is a brutal-looking Magwitch and Claire Redcliffe a graceful, frosty Estella, while Helen Ryan makes Miss Havisham a creepy creature, half skeleton, half waxwork model. All of them inhabit this strange and often spooky Victorian world with immense conviction and energy.

Bartlett, who encapsulates much of the mystery, passion and edginess of Dickens's book, was right to use the author's revised ending. The young audience around me – most of whom were enthralled – seemed glad to have their expectations met that Pip and Estella would "continue friends apart".

Both to 17 January: Stephen Joseph Theatre (01723 370 541); Library Theatre (0161-236 7110)

Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there