I AM BEAST

Sun 23rd – Mon 31st August 2015

reviews

Anna Fleck

at 08:57 on 26th Aug 2015

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The gaudy lighting, dry ice and video game synth music of I Am Beast will transport you to a Sin City world of imagination, where once upon a time, Blaze and Silver hunted evil together. Blaze is Ellie’s superhero persona and Silver was her mother. The surreal play follows Ellie’s (Lizzie Muncey) emotional journey as she struggles to come to terms with the trauma of her late mother’s death, dealing with her loneliness and grief through fantasy and escapism. Scenes flicker from an imaginary safe haven named Paradise City to her mundane home with her widowed father. From comic book superheroes to extra-terrestrial beasts, this play explores the darkest corners of a grieving teenager’s imagination.

Unsurprisingly, in a play about cartoon superheroes and villains, the slow motion slapstick fight scenes are clichéd and the caricatures of evil masterminds and heroes are one-dimensional with minimal room for character development. However, some profound messages resonate through the childishness. For example the line, ‘You can’t stop oblivion’, is a learning curve for Ellie as the futility of human struggle in face of death dawns on her.

The glimpses of Ellie’s actual life offer greater scope for psychological depth. When we gain insight into Ellie's dysfunctional relationships at home between Ellie and her father, John (Gilbert Taylor), we can sympathise with both the hormonal teenager who is struggling to confide in her father and equally John who is exasperated with his ‘uncontrollable’ daughter. For example, the image of Ellie standing on her bed, clasping her blanket desperately to her chest to comfort herself, is the epitome of loneliness. Equally, Taylor’s dejected demeanour, after Ellie screams at him and runs to her room, slamming the door behind her, is heart-wrenchingly pitiable. His hopelessness is communicated through his slumped shoulders, downcast gaze and thinned lips. Although completely predictable, the final resolution of Ellie’s problems is precisely the ending you want and leaves you with a warm fuzzy feeling inside.

The glorious man-sized Beast puppet steals the show. The puppeteers’ navy blue overalls and matching caps allow them to melt into the background under the stage lights and this enables the creature to come to life. The puppeteers’ mastery over the Beast’s individual gestures and actions, from a subtle tilt of the bald green head to the rise and fall of its breathing chest is infallible and clearly well practised.

Hardly groundbreaking, I Am Beast is neither side-splittingly funny nor terribly moving. The narrative arc ties up nicely so that you leave the theatre comforted, but with little impact on your life. The visual features of this play really are spectacular though, so you can at least go and enjoy the view!

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Archie Hill

at 09:59 on 26th Aug 2015

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I Am Beast is the second production from Sparkle and Dark to appear at the Fringe after 2013’s Killing Roger, and like its predecessor it uses highly creative staging and puppetry to explore the dark recesses of imagination and story-telling. Full of an unshakeable energy from start to finish, the small cast of actors and puppeteers offered a visually impressive and breathless journey into the mind of a bereaved teenage girl, as she retreated into her superhero fantasies. The quality of the cast and the original, thoughtful and inventive staging more than made up for occasional weaknesses in a script that sometimes struggled with the weight of what it was trying to say.

Lizzie Muncey shone in the lead role as Ellie, turning effortlessly between troubled teenager and her whole-hearted, ebullient alter-ego Blaze; simultaneously fighting both her concerned father and the villainous Dr Oblivion (both played by an excellent Gilbert Taylor). The way director Shelley Knowles-Dixon and the production team drew the twin worlds together worked very well, particularly in the creation of Paradise City, the jagged, neon-lit concrete jungle where Ellie’s fantasies were acted out. The elaborately choreographed fight scenes with their violent slow-motion punches added to the cartoonish other-world excitement of the show. For all its visceral and fast-paced action, the emotional crux of I Am Beast lies in Ellie’s attempts to come to terms with her mother’s death: alienated and angry, these moments of quiet, raw honesty between the flashes of strobe lighting gives the show its real grounding, stopping it from becoming all style and no substance.

Linking the two worlds is the titular beast, the life-sized monstrous puppet that prowls Ellie’s bedroom, coming vividly to life with its cries and creepy, agile movements as it leaps from bedheads and table-tops: lead puppeteer Nicholas Halliwell and his team deserves credit for their success here. Stalking Ellie’s dreams and nightmares, it becomes an embodiment of her the feelings she is unable to express; transforming into something strangely powerful and almost beautiful. It is moments like these that work well in the show, rather than the mere gratuitous violence of the final fight scene.

Despite these relatively minor points, I Am Beast is well worth watching for its at times thrillingly inventive staging, coupled with a thoughtfully explored, two-dimensional (if slightly clichéd at times) story well served by its flexible and committed cast.

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