by Bobby Goudie.
There are many great theatre experiences for children during Adelaide’s Festival season, but Beauty And The Beast is not one of them. Even though it shares the same name and basic concept with the Disney movie, that’s where the similarities stop. This version is a strictly 18+ production due to its beautiful and beastly nudity, and scenes of explicit sexual nature. Featuring American burlesque star Julie Atlas Muz and British disabled performer Mat Fraser, this show is deeply personal for the performers who are a couple both on and off stage.
The Clothesline speaks via email to Mat Fraser about the evolution of the Beauty And The Beast, performing with his partner on stage and the upgrade from the Adelaide Fringe to the Adelaide Festival. Fraser has previously performed in Adelaide for the High Beam Disability Arts Festival in 2002 and both Muz and Fraser last performed in Adelaide as part of the Fringe cabaret The Freak And The Showgirl.
Who came up with the idea for Beauty And The Beast?
“Originally Julie suggested it as a project for us to collaborate on. As we were hot for each other, but married to other people at the time, I said we should work together and she immediately came up with the idea of subverting classic fairytales to tell stories of disability and feminism. I was gutted that I had never thought of that! But it showed me that Julie was not only a gorgeous beautiful woman and soul, but she is also very talented and artistically creative in wild and wonderful ways. Although I knew this would be an amazing piece of work, I had no idea how profound an experience it would become.”
How did director Phelim McDermott become involved?
“We’d exhausted our own ‘Live Art’ version of it after performing it in development over two years at various different international Disability Arts Festivals and wanted to start again; make it into a piece of mighty theatre. Knowing we would need a director with vision and a real inventive style, we quickly arrived at Phelim McDermott, for his incredible production of Shock Headed Peter and opera Satyagraha. I went along to one the ‘Devoted and Disgruntled’ events that his company Improbable does. When we all had to say why we were there, I was honest and said because I wanted Phelim to direct our next project, and, quite amazingly, he agreed!
“Working with his radical and wonderfully liberating technique, and with Jess Mabel Jones and Jonny Dixon our two puppeteers on board by then, it became its own collective creation. We’re so thrilled to bring to Adelaide!”
In what way, if any, does this resemble Disney’s Beauty And The Beast?
“There’s a Beast and a Beauty. They do fall in love in his secluded castle, have a dance, a kiss, but that’s it, I’m afraid. Everything else is as different as chalk and cheese. It is like comparing Tony Abbott and Mahatma Gandhi or as different as Disney and reality.”
What is it like working with a partner onstage, especially in such an exposing show?
“It’s funny, but all of that exposure stuff is so second nature to me and Julie. We actually find it’s a really beautiful opportunity to indulge in our true love feelings. We’re performing with professional discipline, but the stresses and trials of coupledom on the road can sometimes leave you a bit, well, unromantic maybe. One of the best things about this show is that we get the chance to literally fall in love all over again, but onstage! It sounds like a terrible cliché, but it’s true.”
Do you think a lot of society view sexuality and disability as something that is not connected? What prejudices do you want to challenge?
“We’re not out to challenge anything, just showing how gorgeous love can be when stupid barriers like society’s idea of ‘normal’ are removed. It’s so easy to remove them! What we do in this production is our normality, and if that challenges people, or confronts their prejudices about disability and sexuality, they’ve only got their silly believing-all-that-reactionary-crap selves to blame!
“We are honoured and excited to be coming to do this show for the prestigious Adelaide Festival! We hope that Beauty And The Beast will cut a swathe through outmoded theatre around disability, finish off that awful charity do-gooder liberal arts attitude, celebrate the nude body in all its feminist shapes and sexualities on stage as a rightful thing, and bring forth more radical, exciting open and free discoveries of what can be achieved on stage when you let yourselves really dream.”
Fraser has been amazed by the excellent reviews for the show, including from the New York Times, and how artists can have a surprise hit show in their careers; Beauty And The Beast has been just that for them both. Despite many good reviews and audience reactions, Fraser explains some festival directors have been anxious about picking up the show.
“We have been surprised at people’s nervousness around it. It might be the combination of disability and nudity that is too much for lots of the theatre managers. Not David Sefton though! The man has artistic balls of steel! For a show that has got seven different 4-star reviews and sold out runs in London, it’s proving to be harder than imagined. Happily, in our experience, Australians are ready for whatever we throw at them, but in the USA especially, they seem a little nervous.”
Any other Adelaide Festival shows you are looking forward to seeing?
“I have a soft spot for Gavin Bryars. I saw him perform Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet in London years ago and I’m intrigued by his Marilyn Forever piece. Fela! and La Merda looks good too. We’ll be checking out lots more when we get there.”
Beauty And The Beast performs at Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre, at various times from Tue Mar 10 until Sun Mar 15.
Book at Bass on 131 241 or bass.net.au. Click HERE to purchase your tickets.
Cover Image courtesy of Bronwen Sharp