Laughs do come thick and fast in Fat Rascal’s gender-swapped Beauty and the Beast parody – but it doesn’t particularly play to individual cast members’ strengths, nor seem quite as imaginative or well-oiled, as Vulvarine did.
Fat Rascal’s Vulvarine was probably my 2018 Edinburgh highlight. The wit underpinning its lyrics was impeccable, the characters were written to truly play to their performers’ respective strengths – and the slickness of its execution was a real sight to behold. It goes on tour in the spring next year (including a week at VAULT) – and bloody hell, do yourself a favour and jump on that bandwagon if you’re yet to.
Perhaps my experience of their Beauty and the Beast parody (an earlier work – debuting in 2017, and now back at the King’s Head before tour dates around the UK) was tainted by having already seen Vulvarine. But although laughs still come thick and fast in this gender-swapped, self-consciously ‘scrappy’ 100 minutes – and the company’s unique and endearingly anarchic style still shines through – for me, it seemed a bit pale in comparison.
There’s still the sublimely barmy lines that make absolutely no sense out of context, but you splutter on your drink in the moment. One assumes ‘No one needs that many dream catchers / They were on offer’, ‘I wonder if it’s National Trust’ and more could’ve only have been written after a lot of Smirnoff Ices – and that, the clear fun had during Fat Rascal’s devising and rehearsal process, shines through and makes the company very easy to warm to.
The company’s characteristic feminist bite is also still there, and entirely necessary for proceedings to not feel a little too surface-level after the novelty of quick-changes, a vibrator gag and the My Humps preset song wanes. I’m not sure the retelling sheds a huge amount of new light onto the gendered nature of Disney’s original tale (I think most of the audience get where it’s going before it has started), but the Beast’s final post-transformation admission – that she’s still a ‘bit fat’ – is a nice nod, particularly for the children in the audience (there were some, to my amusement), that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
For me, Beauty and the Beast lacks the jaw-dropping slickness of Vulvarine though – and I mean genuine slickness, completely conscious that the company’s style is to come across as the antithesis. Deep-down, and as they achieved so well with their superhero musical, I hope it’s not controversial to say farces need to be meticulously, ridiculously well-oiled – and run like clockwork – to be as funny as they can. I wasn’t quite convinced you could call their Beauty and the Beast parody that – some action was deliberately clunky, for sure, but other moments seemed just not as well-thought through as they could/should have been.
A couple of weak songs and jokes also stall momentum somewhat. The ‘Siobhan Song’, ‘What Would Jane Austin Do’ and even their title song rewrite just don’t quite do justice to the wit of the company’s writing team, in my opinion, and I left assuming they’d found fitting humour and silliness into chord sequences and phrases already defined by Disney to be restrictive – compared to having complete creative control (and the freedom to let their funny bones lose), as per this summer’s Edinburgh hit.
Cast are predominantly very strong, though I must admit Robyn Grant seems (paradoxically, perhaps) underused as the protagonist. Grant is literally one of the most memorable performers I can remember watching in recent years; Vulvarine was essentially an opportunity for her to demonstrate her multi-roling abilities, comic timing, campy voices, instant switches in physicality, etc at its finest. Other than short stints as an eccentric and enigmatic ‘egg woman’, she doesn’t get to have quite as much fun here. And although Allie Munro and Katie Wells do (and are just as brilliant as in Vulvarine), the artistic decision that they should spend a large part of the show waving prop clocks and teacups in front of their faces hampers the laughs rather than facilitates them.
Shows like this are tricky to analyse, because they’re not really setting out for anyone to do so. Don’t get me wrong, Fat Rascal’s Beauty and the Beast parody is still a bloody good laugh – and should sustain your attention throughout (which can’t be said for every parody musical, particularly those containing an interval). It’s admittedly more commercial, and more marketable than a title like ‘Vulvarine‘, but – in my opinion – just not as sophisticated or unique as what they showed me they could do this Summer.