EFR - Reviews of Beaker's Place

Beaker's Place

Fri 3rd – Sat 25th August 2018

reviews

Megan Luesley

at 00:11 on 5th Aug 2018

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A suicidal man whose job is to dispose of corpses talks to his dead cat’s ashes. Sounds like a barrel of laughs, doesn’t it? With lengthy discussions of suicide and debates over Hitler, Only Lucky Dogs’ Beaker’s Place is a black comedy that emphasises that first word. Yet somehow, against all odds, it still manages to be funny. It’s certainly not laugh-out-loud-till-you-cry hilarious, but a show that smartly balances its darkness with irreverent humour.

Matthew Bevan stars as the eponymous Beaker, who lives in a basement. He specialises in getting rid of whatever bodies turn up on his doorstep, talks to the ashes of Paul (his dead feline best friend) and has precisely the lack of social skills that you’d expect from that description. Bevan’s performance is deceptively comic and perhaps even upbeat at times, but there’s a real tragic undercurrent to his character, Beaker – a sad clown on the brink of taking his own life. With his constant fidgeting and stumbling over his own words, Bevan makes Beaker, if not loveable, at least sympathetic – even if he keeps a gun hanging around and has associates with delightful names like “Maria the Impaler”.

Matching Bevan is Lorna Dale as Drew, who turns up in a body bag but skips the dying part. Compared to Beaker, Lorna is far more closed, and as a result Dale initially appears to be overshadowed by Bevan. However, they soon start bouncing off each other expertly, and as more of Lorna’s past is revealed, Dale becomes a captivating stage presence. Occasionally, the quick quips between them become too fast and almost feel rushed. Overall the production would benefit from some more measured moments to give the audience room to breathe, somewhere in between the long pauses and the lightning fast wit. But this is likely to be something that develops naturally over the production process, as the actors become more accustomed to having an audience.

The production is full of gallows humour (quite literally – there’s a noose onstage), and writer James Huxtable doesn’t shy away from the controversial, including Beaker attempting to humanise Hitler. To some it might sound tasteless, but Beaker’s Place isn’t a play about obvious moral judgments or lessons – it’s a character piece, and director Michael Saliba makes sure to have the two constantly moving and active. Occasionally some transitions in conversation in the script feel slightly forced or unnatural, and at some point in the middle the plot lagged before picking up again towards the finale, but thanks to the emphasis on character this isn’t majorly jarring.

As a student production with a fairly small team, Beaker’s Place isn’t particularly flashy on the technical side – there’s no grand set changes or special effects. But still, credit must be given to the sound and lighting, the domains of Conal Gallagher and Simon Alford respectively. During the sparse moments when sound and lighting effects are used, particularly as the show approaches a dark conclusion, they make a perfect atmospheric addition that truly lift the performances, particularly on Dale’s end.

It’s not a production for everyone; it isn’t offensive, but some may see it as toeing the line, and the comedy is absolutely pitch black. But if you don’t mind a touch of darkness, then Beaker’s Place is a clever, twisted little piece that’s worth a watch.

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Shauna Lewis

at 09:36 on 5th Aug 2018

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Offering an initially humorous yet contemplative look at suicide, Beaker’s Place unravels plot twists as its main characters fight literally and mentally to stay alive, becoming an action-filled piece along the way.

Writer James Huxtable paced the play incredibly well and gave an admirable humanity to Beaker and Drew. For a brief while the play became tedious as the characters argued back and forth, but before it became too claustrophobic Huxtable began to unravel their backstory. He gave them humanity but only so much to make you uncertain of what they could do, with Lorna Dale as Drew embodying this particularly well.

So often in plays that explore themes such as suicide and mortality, you can often guess at a meaningful ending, but Huxtable allows the themes to permeate throughout in speech, letting audiences come to their own conclusions. This allowed the play to be filled with action and be much more entertaining rather than forcing a long and drawn out morality on the audience.

Focusing on only two actors, the play hinged heavily on their performances and their ability to convey the writing. Matthew Bevan, as the titular Beaker, aptly brought the humanity Huxtable gave in his writing. He was so likeable his increasingly frequent references to Hitler didn’t even initially register as psychotic. It was only as his character developed that you realised you were sympathising with someone who idolised and resembled a despotic leader, even if he only respected Hitler’s “human” side.

Adding nuance to the piece, lighting brought out aspects of the stage you didn’t even realise were there. A noose as part of the staging was highlighted shortly into the piece and shocked the audience. Although a gun had been shown previously, it is something we see in every day blockbuster films and perhaps is a prop that no longer has the same shock factor. The noose immediately contrasted the humour and changed the atmosphere offered by the opening of the play.

Sound was also effective, Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al” blaring out cheerily in the background as Beaker and Drew’s life or death exchange continues back and forth. It added more black humour to the play, yet it was reminiscent of the life going on outside the small setting of Beaker and Drew.

Excellently directed on the whole by Michael Saliba, the fight scene towards the end, often hard to make seem realistic in black box theatre, felt like an appropriately explosive end to Beaker’s Place. In a play where everything became unexpected and you learnt to second guess what you were told, I couldn’t have guessed how it would have ended.

Leaving it ambiguous though, was perfect and fitting, as the play itself was only a snapshot into the lives of these characters, whose lives will be just as unguessable outside the play as they were for the short time we saw them inside.

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