DadaFest commissioned Mat Fraser and Julie Atlas Muz to develop and complete their sell-out success from the Zagreb ‘Extravagant Bodies’ arts festival into a new piece. Beauty and the Beast was performed in the Furnace on Sat 6 Sept 2009.
‘What else could you get when a born freak and a former beauty queen, make a fairytale … this is an evening length live art theatre piece that resurrects the classic fairy tale in a way that Disney never dreamt.’ So read the DadaFest programme.
I knew we were in for an evening, of dancing willies and vaginas, an evening of exotica…full frontal nudity etc…. We certainly got that and a lot more. But did we get enough? I enjoyed enormously the melodramatic lavish style in which the show was presented. And particularly some of the theatrical devices, such as the film work at the beginning. A talking vagina and bottom set the scene, telling the story to the point of Beauty’s arrival at the castle – and was hilarious. The backdrop with the Beast’s silhouette was a strong image.
I loved Julie’s dance in the balloon (which I’d have liked more of - I was fantasising about the beast getting in there with her (but I don’t know if that’s physically or logistically possible. It was on a few occasions passionate and definitely an affectionate interpretation - sexually explicit yes, but not gratuitous and surprisingly very close to the ‘Disney’.
For me this interpretation only explored one aspect of the story, namely the sexuality of the Beast as archetype. They performed it as a truely joyous romp. However, as a storyteller interested in the representation of disability in traditional tales I wanted more. The deeper elements of the story – the Beasts’ internal struggle – was lost and there wasn’t enough exploration of the archetypal power relationship between the characters. The change from fear to acceptance happened too.
I’ve always considered the tale to be loaded with disability issues. Much more than just ‘body beauty/versa, supposed ugliness/normality’. Mat has a visible physical impairment. But, I didn’t think that Mat and Julie challenged the perceptions of body/ beauty/ ugliness enough. Because they both have exceptionally beautiful bodies it almost reinforced the body beautiful stereotype. Of course perception of ‘normality’ are challenged by virtue of having a disabled man on stage … yet surely too the Beast could be a representation of a man with mental health issues; an outcast struggling in isolation to find acceptance for who he is and how he is, in the face of rejection from everyone he encounters. I just don’t think Mat and Julie’s text or physical and emotional interpretation did anything like enough justice to these elements. It was just too ‘nice’.
If they do the show again, I’d like to see more of the more fantastical elements of the production. The silhouetted images and the talking body parts. They could also have explored using creative audio description as part of the production. I had AD given through headsets. It was hilarious, really very funny. Did feel for the describer Ann, who I suspect might have felt uncomfortable with the subject matter. Her choice of language was often very polite and her use of swearing restrained to the point of being funny. But some literal description did work and added a layer to the show particularly in the more explicit scenes.
I also hope they will look at some of the more interesting elements of the tale and research other European fairytales. Many explore similar themes and are much more interesting. We need more discussion and interpretations of traditional tales from a disability perspective. They are not just for children and there are many great Disabled and Deaf storytellers out there and some of us want to get storytelling put higher on the agenda, recognised and accepted more within the Disability Arts scene.