Review: Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast
Improbable and 1ofUs
Dir. Phelim McDermott
Young Vic, London, 4th-21st December

Beauty and the Beast is the first co-production between US burlesque star Julie Atlas Muz and UK actor/writer Mat Fraser. The US side seems to dominate when the two of them first walk onto the stage and begin to introduce themselves and their fellow performers, Jess Mabel Jones and Jonny Dixon. There is a bright, friendly-yet-rehearsed tone that reminds me of cashiers in American supermarkets, or Carrie’s voiceover in Sex and the City.

The fairytale begins. Muz and Fraser narrate in their singsong voices, whilst Jones and Dixon bring the story to two-dimensional life with dextrous use of what seems like thousands of transparency sheets and an overheard projector. So far, so Disney – lo-fi Disney.

But once Beauty reaches the Beast, the gloves come off. As do the rest of the clothes. Nudity proves to be the perfect antidote to the singsong, as this classic is reinvigorated with passion, humour and very little clothing by a couple who have experienced their own unlikely love story; she the blonde bombshell Miss Exotic World, he the born performer also born with phocomelia of both arms, a result of his mother being prescribed thalidomide during pregnancy. Interspersed lightly between scenes in the fairytale castle are corresponding real-life anecdotes from their relationship.

These two are impossibly charismatic, confident, and in love. It’s hilarious, it’s infectious – Muz has us doing our best dog barking before the show is even halfway through – and, YES I’ll say it, it’s inspiring. Beauty and the Beast should be compulsory viewing for all. (The Young Vic does recommend you are 16+ though.)