I have designed a site-specific immersive theatre production of the fairy-tale ‘Beauty and the Beast’, reinterpreting the traditional fairy-tale to include elements of Angela Carter’s ‘The Bloody Chamber’. The production draws upon the elements of oppression and violence against women from both stories to tell the story of Beauty as she goes from submissive girl to powerful, dominate woman. This well-known fairy-tale is retold as a site-specific immersive theatre piece to create an atmosphere of drama and tension. As the audience follows the action I wanted the closeness of the action to create an uncomfortable atmosphere and force the audience to feel like they are participating in the performance as more than just a passive audience. The story lends itself to an immersive theatre piece as it allows an audience to be fully drawn into the action and the site-specific location helps build up the drama and force in the narrative.
The overall production design for the show takes inspiration from voyeurism in order to heighten the sense that an audience is secretly watching the action unfold, as if watching a real couple interact. For the costumes the design draws upon fetishism and sexuality to create pieces that explore gender differences in fairy-tales and that emphasise the subverted nature of the fairy-tale.
The story of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ revolves around Beauty, a gentle, submissive girl and her family. Her father has remarried and is often away on business, leaving Beauty alone with her stepmother and two stepsisters; who treat her like a servant, forcing her to wait upon them. During his business trip Beauty’s father loses all his money to the Beast; unable to pay his debts the Beast agrees to accept his most prized possession – his daughter, Beauty. Upon returning home he tells his family what’s happened but Beauty saddened to leave, obeys her father ever the dutiful daughter. She leaves for the Beast’s castle, when she arrives she is ushered in where she meets the Beast’s servants and led her to see the Beast in his study. Beauty leaves her room to attend dinner, seated at the end of the long table is the Beast, he leers at Beauty; appearing interesting, mature and suave he slowly starts to engage Beauty in conversation. He offers to show her around his castle, guiding Beauty through the castle he abruptly stops in front of a dark corridor he gestures to the door at the end and orders Beauty to never go into that room. At the end of the tour he grabs Beauty, pushing her up against the wall in a hard embrace; growling like a lion he sets her down and abruptly leaves. Beauty left breathless returns to her room filled with anticipation, thinking that what has just happened is a sign of love and believing that she will become the mistress of the house. Over the next few days the Beast and Beauty dine together, he shows her more of the castle and they spend the evenings in the library etc. Beauty discovers books and art that shock her; the Beast’s collection of erotic pieces begins to unsettle her as each night he grabs her, hinting at a darker side to his affection, this feeling of uneasiness stays with Beauty throughout her time at the castle. The Beast asks Beauty to marry him. Afterwards he carries; almost drags, her to their bedroom violently consummating the marriage. He appears almost deranged. (Creating deeply unsettling moment for an audience heightened by a set that plays upon voyeurism, the sense the audience are willing watching/participating in the story.) Beauty wakes up to find herself alone in the dark. The Beast prepares to leave on a business trip; he gives Beauty the keys to the castle, she holds them in her hands feeling their weight, and he repeatedly holds up a single key and reminds her not to enter the door off the dark corridor. She promises to be good, waiting for him to return. Beauty waits, moving from room to room trying to pass the hours away. She finds herself continually drawn to the forbidden door. Opening the door she is greeted by darkness. Her candle offering a faint light shows the room to be an ancient dungeon; around her are alters each displaying the persevered body of the women who came before her. In horror she drops her candle and runs out of the room, but the smell of death clings to her. Hearing the Beast returning home she hides in her room, he calls out for her; finding no response he walks through the castle calling for her to answer him; he enters the room in a blind rage, finding her cowering in the corner he pulls her up, shouting at her to confess. Running through the castle the Beast chases Beauty, she realises he means to kill her, completing the cycle of his religious sacrifice. In order to make it out of the castle alive she knows she must stay and fight. Grabbing a small knife she hides it behind her, turning to face the Beast as he charges towards her. She pulls out the knife and plunges it through his heart, she repeatedly stabs him whilst he lies motionless on the ground. Standing over him drenched in blood Beauty realises how taken in by the Beast and by her surroundings she was. She overcomes her feelings of self-doubt and fear, realising she is now truly in charge of her future, she takes charge of the Beast’s fortunes, Beauty orders the Beast’s head to be stuffed and mounted and then displayed on the wall in the great hall.