Adults Only: Beauty and the Beast

One thing’s for certain, the Adelaide Festival of the Arts’ Beauty and the Beast won’t be the Disney version of the classic fairytale, as stars Julie Atlas Muz and Mat Fraser explain.

One thing’s for certain, the Adelaide Festival of the ArtsBeauty and the Beast won’t be the Disney version of the classic fairytale, as stars Julie Atlas Muz and Mat Fraser explain. The husband and wife team of Atlas Muz and Fraser began working on a performance based on Beauty and the Beast around seven years ago. They first staged it as a performance arts piece for disability arts festivals before meeting famed director Phelim McDermott (Improbable Theatre) who encouraged them to incorporate their own love story into the piece. Now, Beauty and the Beast is a full-scale theatre production featuring puppeteers. It’s a show that has won acclaim in New York and London but despite sold-out shows and rave reviews, they’ve had trouble getting the show booked. “The reviews have garnered such enthusiasm and support and it’s a real audience hit,” Atlas Muz explains from Paris. “But I think it’s a little bit scary for presenters, because it takes on some big serious topics. There’s some nudity in the show. It’s about exploring your sexuality and it’s about accepting your body and loving yourself for who you are.” Atlas Muz and Fraser are bestknown to local audiences for the Adelaide Fringe hit The Freak and the Showgirl. Atlas Muz is a burlesque performer and Fraser is a disabled performer currently garnering praise as Paul the Illustrated Seal in the latest season of American Horror Story. Fraser says Beauty and the Beast is a difficult show to sell because there is a “lot of nudity and there are scenes of a sexual nature in it”. “We’re actually finding it quite difficult to book,” Fraser says from New Orleans, where he is filming American Horror Story. “David Sefton [Adelaide Festival Artistic Director], he’s not scared of anything, so he booked it. A lot of theatres, conservative theatres, are really freaked out by it. We’re quite surprised we’re finding it so hard to book considering it was such a hit in London and New York.” Their version of Beauty and the Beast weaves Atlas Muz and Fraser’s own story into the Beauty and the Beast tale. They’ve based it on the original morality tale rather than the Disney story but their version contains some differences. “The original turns the beast into a handsome Prince Charming,” Atlas Muz explains. “But if you look at [Jean] Cocteau’s version, and the Beast that Mat and I did for the disability arts festivals a long time ago, we were very struck by how even though the Beast turned into a Prince in Cocteau’s version, nobody liked the Prince. Everybody wanted the Beast back. But that was done in a subtle way in which you look at the Prince and he’s very saccharin and too handsome and almost untrustworthy. The audience would long for the loving nature of the Beast that they had grown accustomed to. We throw away the Prince Charming ideal and go back to the reality of the Beast.” That’s not the only difference. The Beauty is flipped as well, as Fraser explains. “Julie McNamara, an arch staunch radical disabled political feminist queer lesbian theatre practitioner friend of mine, looked me in the eye, and we’ve argued many times over the years, and said, ‘Fuck me Mat, I never thought I’d ever see a feminist version of Beauty and the Beast. And you’ve gone and done it. I think that is the fundamental difference – our Beauty is a feminist.” This isn’t a show for children, as it as an adult version of Beauty and the Beast. “It starts out, ‘Oh what a cute little fairytale’,” Atlas Muz explains,” and at the end we’re humping, rose petals are flying and you’re like, ‘Am I at an Amsterdam sex show?’ But we take that journey gently with the audience and they come along for the ride, you do go for a ride.” Fraser also appeals to potential audience members who might think they won’t be interested in this show to check it out. “I think the audiences that are going to come are the arts crowd, the liberals, the people who have seen the Freak and the Showgirl, but I would say to the other people, the Tony Abbott voters, I don’t know if I can go as far as One Nation, but the people who perceive themselves to not be our friends, you know what – there are many more similarities in all of us than there are differences. And really, it’s time to stop pointing out the differences and look at the similarities. In our show, we say that all beings are capable of love, and loving each other, so I would say to the people who think, ‘Oh no, that show’s not for me’ – yes it is. Swallow your prejudice and come to the show. And if I’m wrong, I’ll give you your money back.” Beauty and the Beast Adelaide Festival Dunstan Playhouse Tuesday, March 10 to Sunday, March 15 adelaidefestival.com.au

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