Horizon: The Mystery Of The Human Hobbit (BBC2)

ONLY a few months ago, a C4 documentary reported on the discovery of a new and extraordinary species of human. Forget all that, they could have got it wrong - sceptics claim that it's only a modern human who was sick.

For those of us who don't know our homo erectus from our australopithecus, Horizon's investigation into the arguments over the bones proved a lively affair. There's nothing like seeing professors, scientists and other learned folk throwing hissy fits while trying to prove the identity of a pile of old bones.

Two years ago, a team unearthed human remains on an island in Indonesia. What they found was a female who, at one metre tall, is one of the tiniest adults in history. Rejecting suggestions that she was related to wee Jimmy Krankie, experts scanned the skull, examined the teeth and came to the conclusion that this was life, but not as we know it. The receding chin, narrow jaw and twin-rooted teeth led them to conclude the person they called the hobbit couldn't have been a modern human but something more primitive from 18,000 years ago.

While they were preparing for global fame at discovering a new species, the sceptics were furrowing their brows and saying: "Hold your homo habilis, you've got it wrong". One professor even "borrowed without permission" the bones - in plain English, that means he stole them - because, as an expert in homo erectus, he wanted to see if she was part of the family. He seemed more intent on proving wrong those who made the discovery. Professional jealousy or scientific inquiry? Make up your own mind.

He wasn't the only person with doubts. Someone described as "a stone tool expert" (can you make a living out of that?) declared that the tools found in the hobbit's grave were made by modern man. A human biologist filled a skull with pearl barley to gauge brain size. A professor travelled to the Indonesian island to measure the height of the locals and found a pygmy. Microcephalic casts were made of brains. And, most extraordinary, an expert in the way people evolve proved his point by pouring urine-coloured liquid into three glass tubes, which looked more like a classroom science experiment than a serious scientific process.

The sceptics felt they'd produced enough evidence to show the hobbit was a sick modern human not a new species. The discovery team, it was suggested, had allowed a "certain amount of suspension of critical faculties" in reaching their conclusion. Just when it seemed as though the doubters had proved their point, the original team returned to the scene of their discovery to seek more bones. We left them claiming to have found fragments of seven other little people. You don't need to be a scientist to know the significance of that - I reckon they've found the remains of Snow White and the seven dwarfs.

Twelfth Night, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

THIS is a production that does everything right - being pleasant to look at and good to listen to - but lacks what might be called the 'wow' factor. Ian Brown's production of Shakespeare's romantic comedy lacks that essential spark to lift it above the ordinary.

I found it all a bit dull, which is odd considering the action has been relocated to the French Riviera in the 1930s with the accent on sun and sand. The biggest fault is the length, a bum-numbing running time of three hours plus. Someone should take up a pair of scissors and give this Shakespeare a trim. The comedy works better than the romantic side of things in a plot involving shipwreck, separated twins, a love-struck count, a girl disguised as a boy, and John Elkington's sweetly-sung Feste the fool. Antony Byrne's Malvolio is a carefully drawn comic portrait of a man whose spoilsport attitude picks him out as a figure of fun to be taught a lesson by being made to dress in ridiculous clothes and smile constantly. John Lightbody, a lanky fool topped off with a blond quiff, extracts every last ounce of fun from Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Colin Mace's drunken Sir Toby Belch and Mia Soteriou's scheming Maria emerge as an unpleasant pair of scoundrels who deserve each other. Hattie Morahan is gushing and gauche as Viola/Cesario as she courts Susie Trayling's cool, calm and composed Olivia.

l Runs until October 22. Tickets 0113-213 7700.

Steve Pratt

Beauty And The Beast,

Sunderland Empire

THE tale might be as old as time, but this fresh and lavish human re-telling of the Disney animated version is family fantasyland. Some of the stunts may have been a little tame but one appearance by the Beast (Nic Greenshields) really does make the audience jolt forward in their seats. Sets, scenery, costumes, flying and fireworks are linked to the 1991 film's original songs by an accomplished orchestra and well-chosen singers. Young Katie Rowley-Jones - previously seen as Swallow in Whistle Down The Wind - delights as strong-willed Belle, the girl destined to break the Beast's spell. The giant figure of Greenshields neatly swings between fury, desperation and comedy and somehow manages to retain a fine singing voice within the confines of his Beast's ugly jowls. Michael Quinn provides a trouser-splitting muscular villain Gaston. The huge cast required to play enchanted castle servants and villagers is spectacularly handled. Full marks to Mark Inscoe for handling the twin task of Lumiere's randy French accent and a lethal-looking self-lighting candle. And full credit to a band of performers challenged with the task of bringing cartoon characters to life. A special mention must go to North-East lads Adam Hunter and Brad Young, who spend most of the show encased in a trolley with just their heads showing as Chip the cup. The transformation back to Mrs Potts' (Tania Newton) son adds the old-fashioned aaah factor.

*Runs until Saturday, October 1. Box Office: 0870 602 1130

Viv Hardwick