“I think the video is much more, if people get past the point that I’m naked and you actually look at me. You can tell that I actually look more broken than even the song sounds,” so wittered a nonsensical Miley Cyrus, convincing absolutely no-one that her decision to swing on a wrecking ball in the nip at the behest of sex pest photographer Terry Richardson had any kind of deeper meaning than the purely commercial.
In short, Cyrus is an idiot and that video is not art. However, proving that you can gad about on stage bucko and make serious points about body image, sex, love and society as well as being frikking hilarious was Beauty and the Beast, a new show from Improbable Theatre, Mat Fraser and Julie Atlas Muz.
Muz and Fraser are now married, although weren’t together when they started creating this show years ago – intrigued by the contrast of his obvious physical disabilities (a result of his mother taking thalidomide for morning sickness) and her all-American beauty queen looks, putting their own twist on a fairy tale seemed like an obvious thing to do. (Read my interview with Julie here).
So the couple each broke character to intersperse the piece with monologues recalling their own personal story with flashbacks, as they simultaneously told the story of Beauty and the Beast. The scene was set among a gorgeous red gothic backdrop and the story was fleshed out with puppetry from Jonny Dixon and Jess Mabel Jones (a simple projector on stage used to interesting effect at one point).
It was funny (a quick burst of one of Muz’s best known burlesque routines was a hoot), visually impressive and charming; they genuinely have the kind of real romance that can really warm the cockles of your heart. But those familiar with their work will know the traditional storytelling had to meet the freakshow at some point, and after about halfway through everything was done with Muz and Fraser completely naked. (Note: when they actually did wear clothes, the costumes were delightful.)
As hugely charismatic as both performers are, they had much more to say than making it all about them. A beautiful scene where Beauty taught the Beast to dance, and an intimate scene where Fraser washed himself in the bath put the spotlight firmly on the issue of physical disability; and the show ended with a sexually explicit performance that may have been eye-popping, but in its own way could have been burlesque’s answer to John and Yoko’s bed-in.