King’s Head Theatre, London – until 6 January 2018
“What would Jane Austen do?” Having embraced my inner Scrooge this Christmas by deciding not to see any productions of A Christmas Carol or any pantos either, my resolve was tested by the return of Fat Rascal to the London stage, a young company devoted to create “fresh and funny feminist musical theatre” and whose ode to the vibrator was an unexpected pleasure (ooh-er) last year. This year they’re blessing us with fewer sex toys in the form of Beauty & The Beast (A Musical Parody).
And not just any Beauty and the Beast, a gender-swapped one that gives us a Jane Austen-obsessed Beau, a swash-buckling Siobhan in place of Gaston and a Beast who is no less fearsome for being of the female variety. And though it is in the late-night slot at the King’s Head, bookwriters Robyn Grant and Daniel Elliot never make the mistake of overloading the smut (as many an adult panto is wont to do), preferring instead to just be really, really funny.
And it is, hilarious at times too. They nail the relentlessly rapid-fire humour of good panto, stuffing in so many jokes and visual gags that you could literally blink and miss some. And there’s a wonderfully surreal twist to the laughs as well that keeps you on your toes – the villagers, the huevos-obsessed woman, the lynx stalking the enchanted forest – as well as the more conventional laughs stemming from Jamie Mawson’s dim Phoebe-running Beau and his not-so-magic table.
And as the title suggests, no opportunity to parody Disney’s Beauty & The Beast is passed up, from the wealth of French influences (the Camembert Art Fair; the under-rated star of the show – Bicyclette!) to James Ringer-Beck’s score which combines original numbers with deliciously close-to-the-bone rewrites of some familiar tunes. ‘Be Our Guest’ turns into ‘Have A Brunch’, the thigh-slapping ‘Siobhan’ slips effortlessly into ‘Gaston”s place and all are blessed with lyrical inventiveness from Grant and Elliot.
So if you’re only going to see one pantomime this year – which for me is literally the case! – you could do a hell of lot worse than indulging in this particular festive treat, with stellar work from all 5 performers and musical director Nicola Chang. And kudos to Fat Rascal for taking a form widely known for putting men in dresses and flipping the script, amping up their feminist credentials, creating invaluable opportunities for women whilst never forgetting to make us laugh.
Running time: 90 minutes (with interval)Photos: Nick RutterBooking until 6th January