BEAUTY AND THE BEAST – A Musical Parody
Old Joint Stock, Birmingham, Wednesday 28th November, 2018
Taking its cue (and just about everything else) from Disney’s animated feature, right from the whistling Mickey Mouse and the fairy-tale castle at the beginning, this parody from Fat Rascal is a scream from start to finish. Shadow puppets enact the backstory: but this is no direct re-enactment. The spirit of the age – gender-swapping – casts its spell over the production, to hilarious effect. And so Belle becomes Beau, a handsome if bookish young man who lives with dotty artist Maureen (Lesbian ceramics, anyone?). The Beast, an enchanted princess, is covered in fur (“As is her right”)… This daft romp through the classic has a political edge, holding up the traditional roles reserved for males and females in these stories to ridicule.
As Beau, Jamie Mawson is superbly melodramatic, to cartoon-character proportions. Robyn Grant’s Northern Beast (imagine Victoria Wood dressed as the Gruffalo) is sweet and bumptious. Katie Wells’s villainous Chevonne, an entitled man-eater straight out of a Jilly Cooper, has the most outrageous lines, delivered with relish, while Allie Munro rushes around alternating between sidekick La Fou Fou and dotty Maureen. Playing the Enchanter and Mr Spout, the bewitched teapot, along with a host of other characters is Aaron Dart; in fact, the entire cast darts about in this fast-moving feast of fun.
The songs, with music by James Ringer-Beck and lyrics by Robyn Grant and Daniel Elliot, sound rather familiar indeed, with just enough differences to make them ‘new’. The lyrics follow the patterns of the Ashman-Menken originals. If you know the score, there is much to delight in from how near the mark they come. If you don’t, if you’ve never seen the film, it doesn’t matter; you’ll still have a lot of fun.
The script combines wit and daftness with social satire, with pantomime’s acuity for a topical reference, poking fun at middle-class, first-world preoccupations. The fast pace sweeps us along through low-tech representations of key scenes. Beau’s trusty steed is a stationery bike, fondly named ‘Bicyclette’ and the enchanted servants are merely the objects (a teapot, a clock) held up by actors in masks. But the low-tech approach is a big part of the show’s charm and a main source of its humour. The show takes parody to dizzying (Disneying!) heights.
Despite all the gender-swaps, the rushing around, the swearing, the innuendos, despite everything, the storytelling retains some power, and there is a moment within all the laughter where we are touched by the relationship between the two leads. And here, brilliantly, the show makes its main point: a happy ending doesn’t have to be traditional marriage. We don’t have to follow the paths laid down by these tales or be restricted by cultural norms. And yes, feminism can have a sense of humour!
Relentlessly funny, delivered with charm and boundless energy, this is a beauty of a show and one of the most hilarious things I have ever had the pleasure to see. I adored it.