Thursday, 21 December 2017

Tale as old as time… Beauty and the Beast, Kings Head Theatre

Spot the cast from the mob! All photos by Nick Rutter
At one point two cast members chime “please don’t sue us Disney…” but it’s far too late for that! This is now the only true version of Beauty and the Beast and Disney can afford to over look their casting errors in the recent live action film.

This production puts the cheek back into tongue in cheek right from the get-go with a mime of Mickey in Steamboat Willie (fnar!) followed by a torch-lit shadow-puppet introduction from within a child’s canvas castle that must have literally cost pounds. It’s a pitch-perfect piss-take that treats its source material with such affection that you could scare call it beastly.

If anything, it restores the earthy heart of the fairy tale, the lust that goes with the love and the humble faults that all heroes must have – even in Disney. Beau (Jamie Mawson) is a handsome bookworm who longs for a better life away from his ordinary, illiterate little town… every plastic prince must escape from the tawdry to a higher level. His mother Maureen (Allie Munro) is an artist fond of “lesbian ceramics” who wants only for her son to meet a girl who loves Jane Austen as much as he and to exhibit at the Camembert Art Fair.

Jamie Mawson photo by Nick Rutter
But Beau is coveted by Chevonne (Katie Wells) an alpha female fond of hunting all round and specifically concerned with capturing this winsome fellow. In truth they’re ill-matched but she has eyes only for surface attraction and is in every respect so like a man oblivious to the loyalty from La Fou Fou (Allie Munro again).
The plot dances round the well-worn narrative playfully inserting overt commentary that everyone who grew up on VHS copies of the cartoon would now be old enough to appreciate. It’s bawdy but then everyone’s old enough to vote.
Maureen sets out for the Art Fair with her wares on their trusty steed, “bicyclette” but is ambushed by Lynx ending up imprisoned in a mysterious castle… Beau sets off to find her and ends up swapping places after meeting her captor the Beast (Robyn Grant). The Beast is really a princess who was bewitched by an itinerant and highly-judgemental magician (Aaron Dart) who cursed her to remain as a beast until and if she could ever find a man to love her for herself.
Tough task… but once Beau settles in he begins to realise that there’s more to this gal than horns, hooves and hair: she’s well read for a start and that is, you know, so important.
Allie Munro attacked by lynx on Bicyclette! Photo by Nick Rutter
The castle is also populated by talking house hold objects, a Clock, a Teapot and his daughter, a cup called Crack. They also sing a song about that awkward eating time between breakfast and lunch, “eat our brunch” … well, be their guest!
It’s looking very like a fairy tale and we know how its going to go but Chevonne has Maureen committed in an attempt to lure Beau to her lap and things get complicated…

Beauty and the Beast is a riot from start to finish and the audience is so much in on the joke as the King’s Head’s performance space is used to maximum impact. It’s a perfect seasonal treat for all those who secretly believe in fairy tales but who have a mortgage to pay and jobs to hold down… somewhere out there amongst all the beasts is our sweetheart! And he/she might well have a sense of humour!

The cast are a blur of madcap invention with Allie Munro at one point playing two characters almost at the same time either side of Katie Wells. There’s a terrific impersonation of the Pixar Lamp by Aaron Dart who also plays a mob with the aid of two brooms. Robyn Grant makes for a perfectly beastly heroine and sings as passionately on the matter of eggs as she does for her Beau. Jamie Mawson harmonises so well with his Beast and is soppily sincere throughout.

Jamie Mawson and Robyn Grant photo by Nick Rutter
The troupe is well drilled and clearly used to playing together as part of the Fat Rascal Theatre company. Fat Rascal Theatre strive to create fresh and funny feminist musical theatre and here they succeed emphatically well.

Robyn Grant wrote the book and lyrics with Daniel Elliot and the music was written by James Ringer-Beck and well performed on the night by Nicola Chang.
Beauty and the Beast runs at the Kings Head until 6th January and if you’re looking for a more adult rendering of the classic tale with songs and humour then please don’t think twice - tickets available here. Male or female, in any combination, this story is indeed enduring… Disney won’t need to sue at all.

Ithankyou Theatre Rating: ****

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