AU ABROAD

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Adelaide Festival Review and Photos: Beauty and the Beast - Dunstan Playhouse (12.03.15)

Beauty and the Beast is a sumptuous play about love and disability. The play opens unconventionally with lead actors Mat Fraser and Julie Atlas Muz sitting on stage in street clothes addressing the audience about what the play represents. Fraser was born with phocomelia of both arms, due to his mother being prescribed thalidomide during her pregnancy. Julie was a former beauty queen and burlesque dancer. This introduction serves to break down the traditional wall between audience and actors.

The play then starts with a puppet show on an overhead projector telling the story of the Beauty and the Beast. This is skillfully done by puppeteers Jonny Dixon and Jess Mabel Jones. There are elements of puppetry throughout the play which add an air of fantasy to the show.

The well known story of Beauty and the Beast is a hook on which to hang the personal love story of Mat and Julie. Once again breaking down the barriers between performer and audience, the actors break out of the story to tell amusing personal anecdotes of their meeting and subsequent relationship.

The rose has been a potent and enduring symbol of love and is used here as a device to hold the play together. The complex unraveling of the petals is a metaphor for the unraveling of mystery of Mat and Julie's life. As the artists bare their souls, they also bare their bodies. Mat relates the story of how he met Julie doing a grotesque burlesque routine with a dismembered arm which she recreates on stage.

In the story of Beauty and the Beast, Beauty is imprisoned but grows to love the Beast. In this play the audience is similarly imprisoned and also grows to love the "beast". In the final scene all delusions of modesty are discarded and the audience is invited into the very personal expression of love between the two actors. However, there is no feeling of voyeurism or pornography, but one of celebration and joy.

This is the first performance of Beauty and the Beast since it was performed in London 18 months ago, when Festival director David Sefton saw it and arranged to have it performed in Adelaide. Mat and Julie plan to head to Melbourne after this and present their acclaimed play The Freak and the Showgirl.

Beauty and the Beast is a gorgeous play that leaves one feeling happy that true love still exists in our fast modern world.