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Posts Tagged ‘Mat Fraser’

Another evening, another alternative Christmas show. Actually, not really a Christmas show at all. It might be Beauty & the Beast and it is (sort of) based on the 18th century French fairy tale, but it’s about as far from traditional adaptations as it’s possible to be. Forget the Cocteau film and the Disney musical, this is completely original and simply extraordinary. Oh, and don’t take the kids!

Mat Fraser and Julie Atlas Muz are husband and wife performance artists. She’s Beauty and he’s the Beast, and he’s disabled. They intertwine aspects of their real lives and relationship with the iconic story; it even starts with introductions out of character and costume. They are aided by a pair of (virtually puppetless) ‘puppeteers’, Jonny Dixon & Jess Jones, who start with cut-out projections and move on to create flowers and birds with paper, arms for Beast and by the end of the show are as naked as Beauty and The Beast are. It’s captivating, intriguing, funny, moving and ultimately exhilarating. but it’s awfully hard to explain why.

At first, the stepping in and out of character irritates, but then you get used to it, then you actually like it. The scenes are played out in front of and on a stage, elevated wings and inside a small proscenium at the back. The period costumes are gradually shed. There is a hysterical (imaginary) sex scene involving a lot of fruit and it ends with one without the fruit. With a little prompting, the audience become dogs with a diversity of barks and surprising volume. It twists and turns yet somehow feels cohesive by the end; Phelim McDermott’s direction is full of surprises.

I’d almost forgotten what it felt like to leave an Improbable show (though this is a co-production with the couples own company, Oneofus), swept away by the imagination and ingenuity. A unique evening you should not miss.

 

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I hadn’t planned to spend the evening at the very theatre where the afternoon’s show – Oh, what a lovely war! – had been created 47 years ago, but the co-incidence is wonderful as it show’s the Theatre Royal Stratford is still the powerhouse it was then.

Even though it does best fit the genre ‘jukebox musical’  it would be grossly unfair to use that label because its spirit is so far from the ‘showbiz’ of those that precede it. Here you’ll find energy, passion and heart with just the right amount of chaos and anarchy worthy of the man whose songs it celebrates. I absolutely loved it!

A simple story links the songs; set in 1979, a young man is trying to fix an outing to Drury’s Hammersmith concert for his dying dad and his best mate. They don’t make it, but along the way we get a slice of early Thatcher Britain, spend time with a family coping with cancer and a budding love story. The tale is being told in a pub in the present day as a tribute and benefit to the dad. It’s a bit slight and the politics are a bit crude (though somewhat timely, post-spending cuts!) but it’s told with great passion & a big heart with an infectious, blissful chaos.

A co-production with disabled-led company Graeae, the integrated cast is simply superb. Stephen Lloyd is a charming Vinnie, you can’t help but love Stephen Collins angry deaf Colin, Karen Spicer makes such a good job of mum you’re convinced she really has turned up to play herself and Nadia Albina is so full of life as Janine it’s infectious. Garry Robson plays dad from his wheelchair and John Kelly sings lead from his. The talented Daniel McGowan gets to play two parts, guitar and two saxophones simultaneously! The band under Robert Hyman bang out the songs as if their life depended on it (great drumming from Mat Fraser, playwright Paul Sirett on guitar and Nixon Rosembert on bass), but you can still get every word of Dury’s unique (and often filthy!) lyrics. Audio describer Wayne Norman and signer Jude Mahon double up as dancers!

The spirit of Ian Dury is well and truly alive in Stratford and if he made you smile, laugh and cry like he did me, get there quick and you’ll have a ball.

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