Beasts and Beauties, Hampstead Theatre, London

4.00

I can't remember a better year for soaringly imaginative Christmas shows aimed at the children-of-all-ages market. Following on from the seasonal smash hits at the National, RSC, Royal Court and the Young Vic, the Hampstead Theatre now weighs in with Beasts and Beauties, a wickedly gleeful and gruesome gallimaufry of tales by the Brothers Grimm as reworked by Carol Ann Duffy, dramatised by Tim Supple and Melly Still, and directed by the latter.

The show is a triumph of sophisticatedly rough-and-ready ensemble storytelling, with bags of direct-to-audience narration, witty props lowered down on pulleys and the sense that we are watching a company of players who delight in letting us in on the game of creating illusion. It's typical that the actor who has just played the bloodthirsty Blue Beard vigorously flannels off the dye from his whiskers in full view and checks with the children in the front row that it's all come off.

The yarns range from the elatingly silly to the magically macabre. A grumpy farmer swaps roles for a day with his wife and is so bad at household multi-tasking that he winds up head first in a pot of porridge with a cow on the roof and a screaming baby cradling a half-dead pig. Trotting around in a full skirt and curly false eyelashes, Jason Thorpe makes an adorably solemn cow. The hilarious, narrowly avoided full-frontal nudity in "The Emperor's New Clothes" raises the roof with shrieking delight as only a succession of small, strategically placed objects conceals Jack Tarlton's crown jewels.

Tarlton is also the most terrifying Beast I have ever seen – fanged, slimy, half-naked, his features distorted by the disturbing caul that encases his head. The production also heightens the savage summary justice of stories such as the one in which a jealous wife serves her husband a stew composed of his butchered son – and then suffers a nightmarishly deserved comeuppance when the child, reborn as a bird, reveals her guilt to the townsfolk in an eerie Germanic song.

It's a mistake to have the cast rush around near the end offering the audience imaginary food; embarrassing shades, there, of the Emperor's non-existent finery. In every other respect, though, this is a rumbustiously magical treat.

To 31 December (020 7722 9301)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas Pynchon in 1955, left, and Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix in Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of his novel, Inherent Vice

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Nicole Scherzinger will join the cast of Cats

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Fans were left surprised by the death on Sunday night's season 26 premiere

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lady Mary goes hunting with suitor Lord Gillingham

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Arts and Entertainment
Sergeant pfeffer: Beatles in 1963
booksA song-by-song survey of the Beatles’ lyrics
Arts and Entertainment
music'I didn't even know who I was'
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl was left in a conundrum with too much talent and too few seats during the six-chair challenge stage
tvReview: It was tension central at boot camp as the ex-Girls Aloud singer whittled down the hopefuls
Arts and Entertainment
Kalen Hollomon's Anna Wintour collage

art
Arts and Entertainment

TV Grace Dent on TV
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

music
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.

    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

    Paris Fashion Week

    Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
    Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

    Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

    One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
    10 best children's nightwear

    10 best children's nightwear

    Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
    Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

    Manchester City vs Roma

    Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
    Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

    Trouble on the Tyne

    Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?