Beauty and the Beast: A Musical Parody – Old Joint Stock Theatre, Birmingham

Book and Lyrics: Robyn Grant and Daniel Elliot

Music: James Ringer-Beck

Director: Cat Robey

Reviewer: James Garrington

It’s a tale as old as time, yet in the hands of Fat Rascal Theatre, it is also pretty contemporary. Their take on the tale is different, but most of it has more than a slight ring of familiarity for most of the audience.

Gender-swap productions are all the rage at the moment, with Companydoing well in the West End, so why not a gender-swap Beauty and the Beast? Changing the dynamic actually works very well, as well as offering lots of opportunities to add comedy in the dialogue and lyrics. The mood is set right from the beginning, where we get a star flying over a castle, and the show starts – a young man in the market, looking for another book to borrow. Around him, the townsfolk gather to sing about how strange he is in the opening number – Small Province– which has a melody and lyrics that sound oddly familiar to anyone who’s seen the Disney film (“please don’t sue us Disney” they sing at one point in the show). It’s a work of art in paraphrasing and tweaking music and lyrics so the songs say the same things and share a lot musically with the Disney versions while stopping short of being the same song.

As the show progresses we hear more in a similar vein – and it’s extremely funny, as the lyrics seem to get increasingly bizarre. All of the characters are brilliantly funny stereotypes played by a hard-working and talented cast of five. Jamie Mawson is Beau, a sensitive and attractive bookworm who delights in the works of Jane Austen. He lives with his mother Maureen (Allie Munro), an artist who wants to display her work in the local Camembert Art Fair. Beau has caught the eye of self-centred and self-opinionated Chevonne (Katie Wells), who is determined to win him for herself. You know the story – on the way to the fair, Maureen is captured by the Beast, a beautiful princess who has been enchanted (Robyn Grant) when she seeks shelter in a castle, and Beau takes her place with the inevitable result. Completing the cast is Aaron Dart as the Enchanter and Mr Spout, the enchanted teapot.

For a musical, the quality of the vocals isn’t always perfect but it really doesn’t matter. The joy of this production lies in the script and the portrayal of the characters, and the way the whole thing has been modernised with references to the current political climate. Chevonne is portrayed as a woman with a sense of entitlement, someone who is prepared to lock people up for opposing her views, a xenophobe who whips up the mob against the Beast and justifies hunting with the words “they’ll take over the country – steal your jobs, marry your daughters!” In the other camp are Beau and his mother, caring about art and literature, nature and the environment. Look for the parallels with modern society and you’ll find them everywhere – parallels that exist in the original story too, but the dialogue here has really brought them out.

Despite the Beauty and theBeast in the title, the show contains many adult themes and some of it is not suitable for the younger audience member. For the adults though, it provides a bit of escapism and an extremely funny way to spend an evening. Fat Rascal Theatre has done it again – a brilliant take on modern society, using a traditional tale as the vehicle. If you’re looking for a good comedy this Christmas, Beauty and the Beast: A Musical Parody is right up there with some of the big pantomimes and produced with a tiny fraction of their budget. Don’t miss it.

Runs Until 2 December 2018 | Image: Contributed

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Entertaining, relevant and very funny

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The Reviews Hub - Central

The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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