Beauty and the Feast played at The Vaults in Waterloo until January 2018.
The little girl in me who loved to dress up as a princess with sparkly tiara and glittery wand, and who gaped at the magic of dining in Cinderella’s castle whilst proudly wearing a paper crown when holidaying in Orlando at eight years old, is still not-so-secretly going strong with Disney dreams. Beauty and the Beast has always been my favourite Disney Princess story. I watched the video repeatedly growing up and loved the recent film adaptation with Emma Watson and the yellow Dior dress of dreams, and of course Emma Thompson as Mrs Potts.
I loved Belle because yes although like all princesses seemed to have to (until Princess Fiona in Dreamworks’ Shrek at least) she had a pretty face, what was important was her bookish inclination and desire to learn and grow. She turns down handsome with extraordinarily ugly personality, man-of-the-town Gaston, and she cares deeply about her father and about her own dreams. Putting all of this romanticism aside, bring in Beauty and the Feast.
This is very much a panto take on the story. Beauty and the Feast takes the match-making element of the story, combines it with the French dining experience in forgotten glamour from a bygone age and makes something weird but fun out of it. The humour of Mrs Potts, Chip, and Lumiere and Cogsworth’s double act is retained in the spirit of the show. The Vaults saw Alice Underground play out in its space and is a great venue for these immersive magical sorts of experiences, brought to us again by the talent of Darling and Edge. Plus I always like arriving through the Graffiti Tunnel. I tried a ‘Fairy Liquid’ cocktail (basically liquid Parma Violets) perched in the themed bar and enjoyed meeting the roaming cast taking selfies and exclaiming they haven’t had guests in years. Before long Belle’s godmother Fairy Liquid (Chloe Doherty) is enlisting our help to break the spell of the beast’s palace and get Belle and the Beast together. We discover Belle is in drag, coy and with a huge height of hair.
As the audience we are invited to be Belle’s guest, dining at three beautifully decorated tables beneath chandelier-adorned ceilings. The food surpasses my expectations and is delicious. It is all gluten-free and incredibly generous amounts – think whole roasted pumpkins stuffed with hot bean stew, giant cheese soufflés beautifully presented like cakes on glass stands, plates of sausages for those meat eaters, and finally dessert in china cups with rabbit-shaped ice-cream surprisingly challenging to divide (cue icy mess all over the table). I wasn’t expecting to have to communally dig in to the food (a little awkward with strangers) but it worked because of the plentiful nature of the food and really created the banqueting atmosphere. No drinks were included in the ticket so these needed to be purchased separately from the small bar, taking into account a fair waiting time as three tables worth of guests descended for refreshment. The characters are around helping serve but the performance, having started off in the bar downstairs, only returns a little after dessert. At this point drag princess Belle transforms into daring beastly queen, stalking down the tables sparking universal dancing to ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’. I do see rather more of Belle than I was prepared for (hello black underwear one-piece!)
This is more of a highly interactive and entertaining dinner experience for those unafraid to share their food and lose their inhibitions than a theatrical performance – there is a brilliantly immersive atmosphere but no real plot to follow and the story seems to trail off all together once dinner is served. Aesthetic and fun levels scored very high, but this is not for those expecting a tightly sewn together fairy tale with beginning, middle and end. There is of course a happily ever after, providing the audience plays their part.