This week, there have been a lot of reviews of pantomime whizzing around. Some have been applauded and some have come under criticism. Natasha Tripney scolded the New Wimbledon’s Jack and the Beanstalk for being “the kind of lazy, going-through-the-motions pantomime that thoughtlessly recycles dated material even though the world has changed.” Although I think pantomime is a fantastic British tradition I cannot help but agree. Many of these shows regurgitate the same stars and the same jokes with no social observation or attempt at relevance, and not only that, are charging extortionate prices. The same article stated, “the audience deserves better than this.” What the audience deserves, is pantomimes like Fat Rascal Theatre’s Beauty and The Beast.
Full disclosure! Do not bring your kids! While it isn’t quite as crude as some of the adult pantomimes around, I don’t think any pantomime featuring a gold vibrator is appropriate for children. However, it is also an intellectually funny show, with jokes that may go over the heads of younger children (and maybe that Uncle that has never watched the news). Robyn Grant (the Artistic Director of Fat Rascal Theatre who also plays the part of the Beast fantastically) and Daniel Elliot’s lyrics and book is politically relevant, clever and yet never feels like it is shoving politics down your throat, which is important. After all, pantomime is meant to be a fun night out. Yet it doesn’t allow itself to settle for just a pantomime. It is so much more. The gender swap works brilliantly, poking fun at the Disney format of fairytales as well as gender norms, without taking away from the story itself. It explores what we expect from gender and challenges it while still staying in the pantomime and comedy territory perfectly. This is made even better by James Ringer-Beck’s music. It is quite a feat to make songs as ridiculously hilarious as these into catchy emotional ballads.
The cast is pretty fantastic. I saw Fat Rascal Theatre’s Edinburgh shows this year (Buzz: A New Musical and Tom and Bunny Save The World – which will be going on tour in 2018) and they had almost exactly the same cast to Beauty and The Beast and unsurprisingly. They just seem to understand the style that Grant writes and embrace it. However, newcomer to the company Aaron Dart who plays Mr Sprout, Frank/The Villagers and the Foxy Enchanter does an excellent job of fitting into the company perfectly. His Mr. Spout is charming and likeable and he looks at home with the rest of the cast. Another stand out role is Allie Munro as Maureen – Beau’s neurotic artist mother, La Fou Fou- (LeFou) and Lumie. The scene in which she is switching between her Maureen and La Fou Fou had the audience howling and she is excellent at distinguishing between them with ease (with a voice to match).
So before you spend £50 on a ticket to a pantomime, check out Beauty and The Beast. The most expensive ticket is just over £20 and worth every penny, as is any show by this fantastic group. We desperately need more companies like Fat Rascal Theatre, creating politically relevant, high quality, clever yet hilarious theatre for everyone (except the kids, unless you want to be having some uncomfortable conversations).
Reviewed by Kara Taylor Alberts (@karaalberts)