March 12, 2015

Marriages made in burlesque

Filed under: 2015,Archive,Festival

Adelaide Festival

Beauty and the Beast
One of Us/Improbable
Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre.
March 10. Tickets: $ 30 – $ 59
Bookings:, BASS 131 246.
Duration : 1 hr 15 mins. R 18+.
Until March 15.

The Cardinals
Devised by Alia Alzougbi, Gerard Bell, Graeme Rose, Craig Stephens
Stan’s Cafe.
Flinders Street Baptist Church, 65 Flinders Street
March 11. Tickets: $ 30 – $ 49
Bookings:, BASS 131 246.
Duration : 1 hr 40 mins.
Until March 14.

Some marriages are made in heaven; others in Coney Island. When burlesque queen, Julie Atlas Muz met disabled performer Mat Fraser in New York, it was the beginning of many things, including this delightfully intriguing version of Beauty and the Beast.

They introduce themselves – Julie is a former Miss Exotic World from Detroit, and Mat, from the UK, affected by thalidomide, was born with short arms –“two perfectly deformed limbs”.

Expertly directed by Phelim McDermott, this show is a vibrant mix of sexual candour, theatrical wit, and fun – and, although it is R-rated for its plentiful nudity, there is a playful innocence to its jubilant burlesque.

Ably assisted by Jess Mabel Jones and Jonny Dixon as puppeteers, magic lantern projectionists and frolicking orgy extras, the saga of Julie-meets-Mat intersperses their re-telling of the archetypal 18th century story of Beauty, who, to save the life of her father, devotes herself to the regal Beast, first in duty and then in love.

Lit in scarlet washes by Colin Grenfell, Philip Eddolls’ splendidly decorated set, creates a luscious spectacle – sumptuous fabrics with tendrils of roses, matched by Kevin Pollard’s stylishly droll costumes. Beauty and the Beast is cleverly poised between bawdy comedy and courtly romance.

The Cardinals, from Birmingham company, Stan’s Cafe, is a sometimes uneasy mix of styles. Dressed in red soutanes, three cardinals, along with their stage manager, a young Moslem woman dressed in a hijab, perform in a puppet show of Bible stories. They are unskilled in their stagecraft and there is much hilarity as they fumble props, miss their cues, and generally get in each other’s way.

Quite why lofty cardinals are touring a tent show isn’t clear. This is more Father Ted and Dougal territory. Nor do we know how seriously to take the speedy Biblical narrative – all without dialogue – from Genesis to the Gospels, followed then by a hurriedly delivered history of fraught religious geopolitics from the Crusades to the creation of Israel. It also comments strongly on present day religious enmities.

Beyond the knockabout comedy and the Monty Python cross-dressing in head shawls and wigs, the production aspires to the naïve lyricism of folk performances like the Medieval Mystery plays. So sections such as the Annunciation and the Passion, for instance, could claim more dramatic gravity than they do.

The lighting, design and costumes have a technicolor glory to them, and the use of music – classical, religious and 80s dance beats – also enhances the production.
This is skilful, painstaking, often touching theatre, however, director James Yarker has not sufficiently varied the comedy and the frenetic tempo of the narrative. The first night crowd loved them, but these hyperactive Cardinals don’t have to work this hard to please us.

Murray Bramwell

“Marriages made in burlesque” The Australian, March 13, p.16.

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