BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
Young Vic Theatre (The Maria) 66 The Cut SE1 8LZ To 21 December 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Sat 2.45pm.
Audio-described 18 Dec.
BSL Signed 19 Dec.
Speech-to-Text transcription 20 Dec.
Relaxed Performance 17 Dec.
Running time: 1hr 20min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7922 2922.
Review: Carole Woddis 9 December.
Theatrical flights and earthy landings.
The poster sets the tone. Performer Mat Fraser, disabled at birth by the dreaded Thalidomide drug and his new American lady love, burlesque queen Julie Atlas Muz are caught in a moment of carefully contrived erotic delight, she clutching his naked nether regions, he, with beastly snarl, holding a red rose strategically placed.
In the season of fairy tales and wonderlands, this is a bracing alternative.
Under Improbable Theatre maestro Phelim McDermott, here’s a show that waggles its arse and dangles its bits before us with shameless panache. It goes way over the top but for at least an hour is held in check with insouciant brilliance by McDermott’s direction.
Puppeteers Jonny Dixon and Jess Jones start delicately enough, with shadow puppetry and other artfully beautiful sleights of hand retelling the story of the maiden who fell in love with a `monster’.
Very soon, however, storyline and subtlety are ripped apart in the pursuance of a restaging of Fraser and Muz’s real life love-affair, an encounter that occurred backstage at a `freak show’ on Coney Island and that saw Fraser – well known here for such shows as Sealboy Freak and Thalidomide, the Musical – and the Botticelli-shaped Muz simultaneously entranced with each other. Marriage followed a few years later and then their collaboration resulting in The Freak & The Showgirl.
Beauty and the Beast, by their new company Oneofus is, one suspects, a re-run of the former, an opportunity to reassert B&B’s important message about beauty being in the eye of the beholder through the prism of disability, a fact this production plays on with outrageous, sometimes tasteless wit.
Add the nudity, performed with parodic glee by Fraser and Muz and moderated by McDermott and his team’s unerring sense of theatricality, and you have a show of extraordinary charm yet breath-taking self-indulgence that frequently has the audience baying – or I should say barking – with delight as Muz, remembering her childhood delight impersonating a dog, teases the audience into similar.
Celebratory and occasionally genuinely touching, it’s a shame the couple’s exhibitionism ultimately gets the better of them. Piquant, all the same.
Beauty: Julie Atlas Muz.
Beast: Mat Fraser.
Puppeteer: Jonny Dixon.
Puppeteer: Jess Jones.
Director: Phelim McDermott.
Designer: Philip Eddols.
Lighting: Colin Grenfell.
Sound: Ed Clarke.
Costume designer: Kevin Pollard.
Assistant director: Caroline Williams.
First performance of this production was at The Maria, Young Vic 4 December 2013.