Beauty and the Feast, a blend of theatre performance and supper club from designers Darling & Edge, is the latest offering from The Vaults, loosely based on the well-known fairy tale (and recent hotly received Disney live action film). The Vaults space is versatile and has a history of providing a good home to this sort of immersive, alternative theatre experience; Alice’s Adventures Underground, and a version of Roald Dahl’s The Twits (which had a similar premise of eating whilst watching the show play out around you) ran here quite recently. I saw both of these and enjoyed them hugely, as a fan of immersive theatre and so was excited for Beauty and the Feast!
We are welcomed through a glittery curtain and into the anteroom where we perch on a variety of interesting seating, listening to some cheesy hits and sipping a delicious ‘Belle’s Eau De Toilette’ cocktail, complete with rose petals. Guests and players are dressed in their best ‘rococo French fashion’ and our Godmother, Fairy Liquid, sets the scene for the evening – we are in Pantoland, where we need to help break the spell of the beast’s palace and get Belle and the Beast more closely acquainted. Panto noises and catchphrases are required and a party atmosphere ensues! We meet ‘Belle’ herself and Fairy Liquid (played by Chloé Doherty) does a great job at warming up the audience as we move through to dinner.
However, this is where the promise of the premise starts to fade away – we get a few minutes of slapstick back and forth before the dinner comes out – this is mainly vegetable dishes and all gluten free, it is tasty and plentiful (we are on long tables and a few groups have not arrived despite the sell-out week), if a bit lukewarm and delivered in a haphazard fashion. There is debate on our table as to whether the gravy and sausages were meat based (it seems they were) and not much guidance from the waiting staff. The blue cheesecake is a stand out exception – really delicious and had us coming back for more. The dessert was all but inedible – ginger jelly which our tablemate describes as ‘his first curried dessert’ and a mound of pink ice-cream we have to communally dig in to (the low point of the food for all of us). No drinks are included in the ticket and water glasses are in short supply so we pass back and forth to the bar throughout where staff are unengaged and pretty reluctant to help.
We get some more action before dessert is served but the play never really appears again after the welcoming scenes, the action is disjointed and definitely panto, albeit without either the traditional authenticity or the ironic edge to carry it off. The highlight comes with Belle throwing off her ‘just a girl’ role to become a full-on beastly diva and the actor in this role is the real highlight of the night, rousing the group into a lively conga back to the bar and breaking the previously stiff interactions between the guests (nothing like sharing food with strangers to bring out tension among middle class brits…). The second star is his alone!
In short, this is a great idea, sold and publicised well but poorly executed – it is amateur theatre at professional prices and its spell did not work on me.
Reviewed by Ana von Dienstag