EFR - Reviews of Beef

Beef

Wed 3rd – Mon 29th August 2011

reviews

David Knowles

at 12:36 on 20th Aug 2011

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Beef sets itself up as a ‘radical appropriation of the Noah’s Ark story’. In fact, the most convincing part of this show is its exploration of the huge problems for a prophet; the fear that no one will believe them, that they will isolate themselves as well as others. This deep understanding of the Bible doesn’t excuse the opening of a Hebrew Bible on stage the wrong way round (they are read right to left). But this is a pedant’s concern. What about the show I hear you braying.

The performances are for the most part underacted. Rather than shouting their way through the show these actors whisper. This does provide a nice light relief from the hundreds of other shows that shout their way through an hour but unfortunately it is still not convincing. The show opens with an extended monologue from a character who reads from his Bible in the oddest accent I have yet heard. I think that monologue really encapsulates the show; great ideas but undeveloped.

The script manages to maintain tension most of the way through the show but unfortunately undoes all its good work by butchering the end. The end scene actually reveals the show for what it is; underdeveloped and in places just bizarre. The freeze frames that permeated the piece really were appalling and destroyed any tension the actors may have built up. Sometimes this show did really feel on the right track but it managed to kill that illusion about every five minutes.

Walking out of the theatre (C+3 really is an terrible space, hot, stuffy and suffocating) all I was thinking about was the plot holes in the theatre. If the flood was steadily growing outside the house why did Mark describe it as only ankle deep? This is but one example of many. 


Beef raises interesting ideas but manages to shoot itself in the foot through some truly dreadful moments of theatre.

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Fen Greatley

at 14:32 on 27th Aug 2011

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Sometimes concept outstrips acting ability in a cast, which is saddening. Here it is not only the acting that has been outstripped, but the writing also.

'Beef' aims loosely to retell the story of Noah's ark, only 'as he is torn between his unforgiving wife and the survival of humanity'. The play opens with an almost incomprehensible monologue from some kind of preacher. Such is his accent – a confusing blend of Irish, Jamaican and goodness-knows-what-else – that you can barely understand a word that he says; at any rate, that which you can make out isn't logged, as you're so baffled by his strange manner of speech.

The next hour is just bizarre. Rachel, after presumably having been in a long term relationship with Mark, wants out; one phone call and mum's coming to the rescue. Only mum never comes and the break-up is somewhat scuppered by the arrival first of Mark's pregnant sister and then a series of his work colleagues. All are seeking refuge from some kind of terrible, terrifying natural disaster that's never really given any further characterisation than 'one hell of a storm', and an impromptu house party cum sleepover takes place.

It's revealed to us that no one really knows anyone else in the group as they all huddle together, nervously clutching their cans of Carlsberg. Even the colleagues hadn't met.Yet Mark doesn't want to let anyone go, since it's oh-so-dangerous outside and he's had a dream that his house is the only safe one. All this, despite venturing out himself several times for no real reason, including an awkward episode with his pregnant sister and a curtailed trip to the hospital that isn't really developed.

For apocalyptic rain, the characters aren't nearly as wet when they arrive as they might be; however, this is just one issue I had with the rain. The writing is highly inconsistent, referring at different times to the water outside being 'up to your ankles', suggesting that there's been no development, but also to it having overwhelmed them, it being impossible to see anything or anyone outside (it's assumed that everyone has perished).

Besides inconsistencies in its temporal presentation, the script falls down elsewhere, and in more basic respects, such as plot and characters. The entire situation is absurd: why does Rachel want to leave Mark? She never makes it clear at all, in fact there's more effort spent in skirting the issue than would be necessary to create a reason. What has marked out Mark as the saviour of our people? Fair enough if he's supposed to be your regular man, but it's not dealt with at all – there are no clarificatory philosophical monologues where he ponders what his role is, etc etc. Why is there even going to be an apocalypse?

Instead, Mark, who's supposed to be the one with a clear vision of what to do, spends most of the play scuttling around off and on-stage, sometimes stopping to assemble some sort of wooden contraption at the forefront. Why pick now to start building a chair? We're left wondering also why he doesn't simply take two minutes to explain this 'dream' that he claims to have had.

The various workmates, in the meantime, play purely perfunctory roles. They barely speak and often just look bored or embarrassed to be on stage. Their dialogue is strange and renders their characters even less believable – a seventeen year old girl (who looks far older anyway and has been made young simply by plonking a pair of trainers on a businesswoman's feet) speaks oddly sophisticatedly for her age. More characters arrive and add nothing to the drama: one businessman arrives with news of outside, but after a garbled piece about this house being advertised on the radio (which compounds and confounds the situation further, not being explained), he also sits limply.

Together, the passing of time is shown by the group as they switch stylised positions; yet even these are weird and too long. After an initial time spurt, in which the group seem to be playing charades or Pictionary or something (which is funny), the later ones all look the same, with strange movements that no one would make, which aren't carried out neatly, in time or with conviction. As the play progresses, the element of farce initially introduced by the character of Adam, the (stereotypically Welsh) embodiment of awkward humour and unpredictability.

The messy confusion comes to an equally messy end when the play ends abruptly with a photograph of the apocalypse team, as though even the writer has given up hope of making any kind of sense of the piece. Relevant action hasn't been shown, making way for weird exchanges and poor, half-circular references. The allegory is never quite completed and the situation we face instead is unbelievable, largely because of incredible reactions (no one bothers to call any of their loved ones or the emergency services!). Audiences will just be left exasperated, I'm afraid.

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