Fat Rascal Theatre’s Beauty and the Beast: A Musical Parody

Little town… it’s not a quiet village anymore.

Fat Rascal Theatre’s Beauty and the Beast: A Musical Parody is a winner, but are the company in need of bigger bootstraps?

The tale is not as old as time, but as a sound staple in the glory of the Disney canon, we’re all pretty familiar with it. Little town, it’s a quiet village. This village, however, is a little different…

Fat Rascal Theatre, helmed by Robyn Grant and Daniel Elliot’s Theatre of Wit takes the original Beauty and the Beast and reverses gender. In their own words, ‘if the best thing that 2017 can offer women is… Emma Watson… rushing back to the man that’s had her locked in his house, we’re a little worried.’

The piece exposes the glory, (and some of the horror) that privileged Perspective sees with his 21st century eye. For instance: Why is the end game always a woman finding her prince – ahem, being found by her prince? Is this really Stockholm Syndrome? WHY DO ALL THESE GALS LOOK THE SAME BUT JUST DIFFERENT HAIR???
PS When I met Ariel at Disney World she was a bit of a bitch. I did not want her to be a part of my world.

Beau, as pretty as a tinkle, as handsome as the translation, is devoted to Jane Austen and wants out of the provinces. His quest for a better life is being thwarted by small town narrow-mindedness.
’There was no chickpea flour about, and when I confronted the mayor about it, he said there were more important things going on, like the famine.’

Enter the disappearance of his artistic mother Maureen on their beloved bicyclette, and Beau finds himself rescuing her from a castle in the forest, but not before commenting on the interior.
‘Not the doors I would have chosen.’
He is quickly caught and exchanges his freedom for hers, agreeing to imprisonment by a beast; large, hairy, terrifying and… female. Thus begins an unlikely love story, steroid-injected with laugh-out-loud humor in this hysterical parody devised by Fat Rascal Theatre.

“You are young and middle class. Have a Brunch.”

This was my first visit to the King’s Head, housed in a characterful, cosy and LOUD pub. I have no idea how they soundproofed that space. After some hothouse shuffling, I found my seat. There was a sense of anticipation and a game crowd. For those of you who have seen Never Been Kissed, the house curtain was the pink 80s taffeta Drew Barrymore wears just before she is devastatingly egged. For those of you who haven’t, it’s a pink curtain.

Speaking of eggs, there is a whole number on eggs, a plot twist I never fully digested, however it was a strange re-affirmation of this piece’s similarity to Something Rotten. That Broadway musical’s flashy panache, which would do terrifically here in London, is the standard Fat Rascal has set in an off-West End space.

These guys make makeshift cool. These are theatre hipsters. Don’t have the budget, width or the audacity for more village people? That’s fine! Fashion them out of hessian sacks, broom handles, rhythmic bopping and squeaking tenor, and they’re actually far more enjoyable than real people. HOW DID THEY DO THAT?

I might sound like I’m making fun. I’m actually totally serious. They are craftsmen. This is real theatre, where you don’t just go and purchase something you need. You create it. Animal puppets are cooler than animated birds. Technically, they are slick and professional, with dynamic, hopping transitions. I loved seeing MD and Sound Designer Nicola Chang playing onstage alongside them. Where did she get her military coat?

In today’s world, appearance seems to matter less, and more, than ever. This is the time of loving the natural, of anything goes, and also the renaissance of social media and the selfie. Fat Rascal have brought this dichotomous meal to the table, and demonstrated how face is merely the illusion – the good stuff comes with heart.

Did I mention – I’m used to writing down a quotable line, and having enough non-quotables in between to finish the sentence. I’ve got speed note-taking down to an art. This show is so full of witticisms I couldn’t keep up.

‘Was that the last goose crying nine? No, just Biff the village madman.’

Jamie Mawson as Beau was so darn good it took me a full two minutes to realize that a glistening tear was player’s sweat. It was probably longer, he made me daydream. He, yes, he, is our ingenue. He is conscious of his effect on an audience (a whistle was followed by a cheeky wink on his part), but doesn’t let it infect his performance with pride. A peacocky, nutrition-extreme, aesthetic-policing spring chicken with a shock of cherub hair and first class woes could be hateful; repulsive. Mawson is too earnest to let this happen. He doesn’t bathe, he just lives it.

Also, the dude can sing. Just when I settle into thinking the score is ‘sing-a-long-able’, he busts out a gorgeous tenor in What Would Jane Austen Do? You can see a West End musical and witness a much less reliable top note from a leading man. I won’t name names.

A resolute stand out, Allie Munro, (who needs a new headshot, her charisma and look surpass it), deftly switches between Maureen and LeFouFou; wafting kaftan to simpering worship. This is some of the best musical theatre acting I have seen, folks. Munro is a professional. Her devastating devotion to Katie Wells’ Siobhan (this version’s Gaston), in an unexpected and delicious turn of events. Wells, for her part, is dedicated and hip-thrusting, in unabashed female glory. I watched this love story more closely than that of the leads.

Aaron Dart, ‘that cheap novelty teapot’ and member of the ensemble knows himself and the effect he can have on an audience. He leaves you in stitches with his physical choices. The choreography was slick, writing on point and the performances proFESH. The music was mostly in keeping with old favourites, preserved with dignity by composer James Ringer-Beck, but the lyrics were the real deliciousness here.

‘Nuts and weasels!’

I loved this show. I laughed hysterically. But afterwards, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was I felt was missing. I brought it up with a colleague of mine who shares a guilt-free love of Richard Curtis. His fervent opinions come from an abundance of experience incidental to enjoyment. Coincidentally, I found that he is personally familiar with Fat Rascal, had seen and loved Buzz: A New Musical.

His opinion: ‘They won’t do anything as good as that again.’ ‘Why?’ I prompted. I like gray. I thought this was too absolute.

His explanation: they’d reached their height because they weren’t exploring past their own limits anymore. Not conservative limits. Not limits of archetype. Their own. This was that niggling feeling I had. The show is fantastic. It’s everything you’d want. However, seeing this impressiveness made me want to see them tackle something more, or different.

More: Pushing their own boundaries. They are comfortable in the fluid, they are comfortable in the wacky; how can they be uncomfortable in it? What would risk look like to them? Making a statement and asking

questions. Their power of their piece lies in being boldly unselfconscious, but they didn’t challenge what’s already in the ether. What lies beyond? If anyone can tell us in an ingenious way, it’ll be these guys. They have power greater than what they’re using.

Different: Clearly they have a track record of original stories, which I have not been party to. I want to be. I feel that if this had been original, it would have been a more complete experience.

As their welcome in the program suggests, this is ‘playtime.’ I respect that. I also respect that this is my first introduction to their work. I respect that perhaps my own sensibilities are considered gregarious in the eyes of more conservative theatre-goers. But what’s my opinion? With a crowd like this, they’re capable of something else, something truly exciting. They trumped themselves with their own talent.

Still…

Go, go, go. This is the best of what you can find in original writing and performance away from a commercial offering. You’ll barrel in laughter and batter your boredom, and you’ll probably be reminded of a few elements of the original which wouldn’t fly in earnest today. Also, let’s not politically correct the suggestion of bestiality or try to shave the Beast’s mane… we’ve all been there.

Beauty and the Beast, A Musical Parody runs at King’s Head Theatre from December 11, 2017 to January 6, 2018. Visit kingsheadtheatre.com or fatrascaltheatre.com for more information.

Worth noting: The King’s Head Theatre have a house Equity agreement, meaning that all the players onstage are paid their fair wage, and all the players off-stage are, too. This is a commitment due attention. Venues without an ‘elite’ status or patronage struggle to survive with less emphasis on face and more on heart. Less focus on how they appear to the public and more on what they truly mean to the public, to earn their revenue. In this world as we know, political rightness and a curated image can count for more than dedication and brute passion. You can’t blame a business for running like a business. You can’t always accolade it for ingenuity and heart, either.