“Be(a)st of new British musicals”
Fat Rascal Theatre’s production of Beauty and the Beast: A Musical Parody at the King’s Head is a great example of the new wave of British musicals currently emerging onto the fringe theatre stage. The description of the show as a parody is a truly accurate representation of this volte-face of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, as boy does it alter the original so that it’s totally back to front. The first thing I want to say about this musical is that it is wonderfully clever. The whole idea of changing the roles so that the Beast is the female and the romantic lead is the male seems obvious. However, it works seamlessly and so holistically that you’d think that this version is the original, and that Belle was always Beau and that Belle’s father Maurice was always Beau’s mother Maureen. The exaggeration – or should I say eggsageration – of the story to increase the comic effect is pure genius. I loved, loved loved every minute of it.
When I began writing the review I held back one star because the singing isn’t particularly good. Allie Munro as Siobhan’s sapphic sidekick and the over-arty Maureen shows the most vocal prowess in the five-strong cast. However, the entire ensemble overflows with energy, enthusiasm and dedication to making the evening an outstanding entertainment experience, so why should a few ropey notes deny a perfect five stars. As someone who is equally at home in the vast expanse of the Royal Opera House and the intimate setting of a pub theatre like the King’s Head, what I enjoy most about fringe theatre is the ability to see the expressions – and sweat – on the faces of the performers; my particular favourite in this respect is Katie Wells’ rendition of Siobhan, who is oh so deliciously Jilly Cooper-esque in her jodhpurs and red riding jacket and the delivery of her very saucy lines. Jamie Mawson’s Beau is superbly soppy, especially in his obsession with Jane Austen; reminding me in some ways of a young Alan Partridge – possibly because of his hair and appearance as much as his likeable ineptitude as a leading man. Aaron Dart is perhaps the least effervescent performer, in his roles of Mr Spout and Foxy Enchanter, maybe because he is restricted to mostly supporting parts and not given the opportunity to really shine. However, to me the real heroine of the evening has to be Robyn Grant, not just for being an inwardly beautiful Beast but more so for being the writer of this great piece of theatre, and also Fat Rascal Theatre’s Artistic Director. It’s always inspiring to be in the audience of a superb new show – and this one has talent in spades.
Many theatres across the UK will be presenting Beauty and the Beast as a pantomime over the festive season. The story certainly has a hero and a heroine and can be stretched to have a villain and a dame. Every panto has to include singing, dancing, comedy and a happy ending; okay, so Fat Rascal’s version also includes swearing and sexual innuendos so might not be suitable for children. Why not treat yourself to a grown-up (and hilarious) early Christmas present with a visit to Beauty and the Beast: A Musical Parody the King’s Head this November. One thing’s for certain, you’ll never think about a hairy woman in the same way again!
Beauty and the Beast: A Musical Parody
Fat Rascal Theatre
Book and lyrics by Robyn Grant and Daniel Elliot
Music by James Ringer-Back
Producer Laura Elmes
Box Office: kingsheadtheatre.com
Reviewer Deborah Jeffries is a PhD Researcher at the University of East London and Rose Bruford College. Her thesis is entitled ‘Legitimising the Victorian Music Hall’, and it contests the notion of legitimate versus illegitimate theatre. It also investigates theatre architecture, purpose and licensing. She has worked for Hoxton Hall and Wilton’s - two of the UK’s four operational Victorian music halls, as well as the more modern incarnation, Brick Lane Music Hall. Her MA in Drama from Goldsmiths explores the difference between music hall and variety theatre, and the place of each genre in modern popular culture. She has reviewed music and theatre across the UK for over 30 years.