A gender-swapped parody of Beauty and the Beast comes to the King’s Head Theatre this winter. Camille LaPaix caught up with Fat Rascal’s Robyn Grant and Laura Elmes:
With so many recent retellings of iconic Disney films, it seems more & more difficult to extract ourselves from the archaic and unchallenged gender roles that we grew up with and adored unquestionably. So, an alternative show like Beauty and the Beast: A Musical Parody, where novelty and cherished familiarity seem to intertwine, is a welcome change to the normal gender stereotypes. This rewritten musical, playing at the King’s Head Theatre with a cast of five (and one onstage musician), is a brand new, gender-swapped version of Walt’s much adored tale, one where we learn not to judge a book by its cover.
I caught up with creator, lyricist, and Beast, Robyn Grant, as well as producer Laura Elmes after catching a glance at rehearsals. The room is still reeling with a vibrant energy and enthusiasm when I sit down with the Fat Rascal Theatre team:
We live in a society built upon fairy tales told from generation to generation, and many of them are intrinsically misogynistic. So, why Beauty and the Beast?
Robyn: Beauty and the Beast has been so much in the public eye in the past year, especially because of the live-action retelling. It was billed as “this new feminist retelling”, but the main difference was that Belle invented a washing machine, and spent the rest of the movie being thrown in between these strong men.
It started us talking about what a feminist Disney stance would be
Beauty and the Beast is the story of a woman who accepts this hideous man that locks her into his house, and With women it’s a different scale so we wanted to flip it around to see whether it could still work and if we could really make a feminist retelling.
Laura: Beauty and the Beast is basically a romanticised Stockholm Syndrome, where the hostage falls in love with the hostage taker; it’s not the most romantic story out there.
Robyn: That seems to be okay, because he is a man – we accept them for their flaws; we don’t judge them on their looks. If you flip it gender-wise, it becomes a comedy at its core because it’s ridiculous that this boy falls in love with a big, angry monster. But we just accept it naturally the other way around.
Why do we accept it one way, but the other way makes us think, “that’s ridiculous”?
You seem to have this ‘Entertain, Educate, Empower’» stance in each of the shows you’ve worked on together. Do you think that’s what theatre is today?
Robyn: Often, feminist theatre and comedy are considered as two different things. Feminism is done quite seriously, poignantly and brilliantly – there are so many fantastic and important plays out there. But Laura and I love comedies and we don’t see why the two should be distinct.
Laura: The audience who goes to these poignant plays is an audience who probably goes to theatre generally, whereas the audience that we attract goes more rarely. We are using more popular titles, like Buzz – a show about the vibrator. People want to see it because of that; but then we put a feminist spin on it, and they leave not only having had a good time but also thinking.
Robyn: We’re trying to hook in people that are initially put off by political theatre, because they see it as a private members club. We want to appeal to the people who are going to see musicals on a night out once, maybe twice, a year.
But gender-swapping characters is also integrated into these “private members club” plays. For instance, Shakespearean work – As You Like It comes to mind – has used this specific tool for quite some time. Do you think the way you are using gender-swap can be compared to the way it was used back then?
Robyn: In Shakespeare, gender-swap is often used for an end goal that profits the men, but it isn’t used to prove anything about the women. Men have been gender-swapping to allow themselves to be funny, caricaturing women while wearing dresses – we’ve seen it a million times.
Laura: It’s about finding what people want to see and making it relevant, while always challenging things to the point where we have quality out of it. We did a zombie show [Tom and Bunny Save The World] and when you see zombie TV shows, it’s always women dying first. Maybe the female romantic interest is going to last a little while longer because she is protected by a man…
But ours, we didn’t advertise as a feminist show; we advertised it as a zombie show and we had a majority of men in the audience. They loved it!
Robyn: Feminism is for men too, it’s to allow them to be portrayed as much more than brutes and beasts. In our shows, the women are fighters, the men are sweet and clever, and caring.
Revisiting Disney, that’s right in the eye of the storm
From what I saw of the rehearsals, the male and female actors seemed to be really into it. I have rarely seen people having that much fun during rehearsal process.
Laura: I always thought Belle was quite boring as a character, but flip it around, and Beau becomes everything but. You don’t have to end up with a boring character just to make the other seem stronger.
Robyn: I think the main challenge is that we want to match the Disney image. We want people to recognise the touch and we want them to think, “Oh, I recognise this! I know this!”, but on a budget. And on the King’s Head set.
Laura: Without getting sued by Disney.
How did you get away without a lawsuit, actually?
Robyn: We are protected by the laws of parody because we’re poking fun at the movie and all the songs are different, but also without being worlds away.
Laura: Often I hear the score and I wonder, “Isn’t that from Beauty and the Beast”? I realise it is just very well-researched, catchy and beauty-and-the-beast-esque, without being from the actual movie.
Robyn: Our composer, James Ringer-Beck, is such a nerd. Ever since we pitched the idea to him, he has been living in Alan Menken’s world. He is a genius, and a good part of what makes our show so unique, which makes us so convinced that people will love it.
To read more about Beauty and the Beast, which plays King’s Head Theatre from 11 December 2017 to 6 January 2018, follow the company on Twitter (@WeAreFatRascal) or visit their website – www.fatrascaltheatre.com