Robyn Grant talks about Fat Rascal Theatre’s Beauty and the Beast

Kara Alberts sat down with Artistic Director of Fat Rascal Theatre (pronounced Fat Ra-scal not Fat Rah-scal – it is important, she is Northern) to talk about their pantomime, Beauty and the Beast at the Kings Head Theatre.

What is your role in Beauty and the Beast?
Fat Rascal is my company, so alongside writing it and sparking off the whole idea I pretty much put the show together. Which why I am covered in gold paint right now. So when I am not rehearsing it I am tweaking the scripts or making Lynx puppets and distressed portraits of myself. It’s really great because I get to see all aspects.

Why Beauty and the Beast?
Well it has been a big thing this year because of the live action film. There was a lot of coverage of it being a feminist retelling but when we went to see it we didn’t really notice that. Yes, she helps her dad with his job and she’s clever, but she still spends most of the film being tossed between these big burly men and then running around in a dress looking pretty and being delicate. A guy who’s essentially a big bear still locks her in a house. We so easily look over the flaws of men, how they look, how they behave. The beast is meant to be hideously ugly, he locks Belle in his house and is not very nice to her but then he shows her that he’s got a library and suddenly she falls in love with him and we accept that! We always accept that men can be flawed but still desirable that’s why there is a whole thing about bad boys in film culture. A bad girl might be naughty but she’s still incredibly sexy. You’d never get a horrible ugly woman, that’s not very nice at all and is quite aggressive and then suddenly she is fallen for by a gorgeous delicate young man. So we wanted to address the double standards of that and I don’t think it can truly be a feminist story until it works for both genders. Also gender swapping is really interesting, it has been going on for years, never normally in a way that is good for women. Gender swap in panto means a man could play a funny woman and take the piss out of her and it actually becomes quite a sexist thing.

Were you a fan of Disney growing up?
Oh my god. I am quite obsessed. I am the person you will sit next to in enchanted and tell you all the nerd facts about the cameos. So it has just been really fun. For me with Fat Rascal it has always been about making theatre that is going to be enjoyable. No matter what I want to talk about whether it is feminism or gender equality, it has always got to be something really fun and really exciting that people want to watch. So with Buzz… vibrators and sex, it’s fun. Tom and Bunny… Zombies. I am basically indulging everything I love and other people love as well. Everyone loves Disney but growing up I felt like there was a real lack of role models for women, but now with Moana and Elsa, they are getting better. But we are pushing those boundaries in terms of what Disney is doing, and every time Disney do push, like with the gay characters in Frozen and Beauty and the Beast there is controversy all over the world. In Texas they didn’t show Beauty and the Beast because of the two seconds where Josh Gad dances with another man at the end. It just is still so backwards. So it using the Disney format to show a strong female character and talk about homosexuality.

And if it hadn’t been Beauty and the Beast?
I was toying with doing Hannibal the pantomime. I wanted to do a horror film as a pantomime. Maybe next year!

When did Fat Rascals start?
I trained at East 15 along with Allie and Rosie, Jamie and Katie. I did the contemporary theatre course so I started writing Buzz in second year and Fat Rascal was formed at the end of my second year. So we made Buzz, took it to the fringe that summer, met our producer Laura and it has kind of just grown and we haven’t stopped making work since.

Are there any other companies from your time there still going?
Yeah! Antler, Lost Watch, Snuff Box, Superglue Assembly Line, The Pretend Men… we are sort of ruling the fringe circuit and it is a system that works. It is great that they encourage people to go make their own work; I think it is a really healthy thing to do. As I said, I’ve not stopped working since I left drama school, which is rare, and I love being able to be a writer and a producer. So often there’s an assumption that you’re an actor and that’s it. Actors are some of the most intelligent, eloquent and interesting people but just because we have chosen a creative path it is like we are expected to work for so much less than we’re worth.

So why is it called Fat Rascal?
A Fat Rascal is a big scone with a face on it, which you can get, famously from Betty’s Tea Rooms, which is in Leeds where I’m from. Basically, I think ‘fat’ is used as a really negative word in this industry and it is something that women are very afraid of. It’s a word that has been used to hurt me in the past and restrict me. So I wanted to reclaim it and empower it. Then you have rascal, which is cheeky, fun, rude and a little bit naughty which is what we are!

So I stalked you guys on twitter, and you call yourselves “Feminist Musical Comedy Makers” in that order. Why is that?
So we are a feminist company, in that we are run by women, making work about women but not just for women, we want to appeal to everyone. It is feminist not because we are necessarily talking about it, but because it includes strong and powerful women. So it is naturally feminist without having to be on the head.

So what does it feel like being a woman writing musicals in London?
There’s a severe lack of us. I read an article recently talking about women in theatre like it is a risk. What risk? I don’t get it; surely the best person should get the job. I know there are women writing and sending stuff in but we are just not being seen or taken seriously. There aren’t producers out there willing to take risks because there isn’t much money out there for the arts. Look, it is a problem and it feels a bit like a war.

So finally, why should people come see the show?
It is probably one of the only pantomimes where you get to see women play more than just princesses and fairies. We are fun, festive and it is great night out but at the same time you will leave feeling empowered and talking about gender. I think it is interesting to question Disney as a format because it is so engrained in us – but in a fun way. It is going to be bonkers but I think it’ll be really fun and different and I think really exciting because of that.

Interview by Kara Taylor Alberts