The B*easts

Thu 3rd – Sun 27th August 2017

reviews

Elena Casale

at 11:12 on 12th Aug 2017

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'The B*easts' unravels like a murder mystery. The lights reveal a chessboard-tiled floor, adorned with a single sofa and coffee table which is littered with psychology books ‘The Brain’ and ‘Mind Change’. Monica Dolan plays Tessa, a psychiatrist specialising in abuse or identity trauma, and has her audience captivated throughout. Like a detective, she begins to piece together a story for us between puffs of smoke. A tragic story.

In recounting the way her patient, Karen, travelled to Brazil to fulfil her seven-year old daughters demands to have breast implants, Tessa explores the way that society leads to the sexualisation and abuse of children. Dolan embodies all the characters in her story with verve and authenticity, giving her one-woman show a 360 view. Tessa is an intelligent and compassionate speaker, and makes us understand rather than simply judge Karen. She says she doesn’t care about what’s right or wrong, only about what is ‘helpful’ to her patient.

Through the story of Karen and her daughter Lila, B*easts probes at some of the most pressing issues in modern society. Tessa questions the meaning and preservation of innocence in a world where paedophilia is institutionalised, how far ‘otherness’ can be tolerated, who children’s bodies belong to, and how far a parent should go for their child. We are intermittently plunged into moments of sudden depth and lucidity: ‘I think a lot of the time when people think of becoming famous they think of becoming another person entirely’.

The media is exposed to be a vehicle for exploitation, as Tessa relays the way in which it feeds and in turn supplies generations of women with pornographic images, fostering the mentality that you have to be sexy to be loved. She explains the way that Lila’s experience is disturbingly unsurprising: for children, ‘the synapses are racing’, they subconsciously take in and internalise all the background media they see. By this point, I am inclined to agree.

We reach the emotional crux when Tessa speaks of the ‘inevitable rape’ of Lila. She pauses on that phrase to let the horror of it truly sink in. She hates the word ‘inevitable’ she says, trying to guise a growing emotional connection with Lila with an impromptu outburst on gender equality. Dolan’s choice to spare us the details of the rape is a testament to the sensitivities of the play: she doesn’t want to sensationalise the experience. Indeed, the story of Karen and Lila exists somewhere behind the stage, but crashes to the fore as the protagonists own ‘little problem’ is emotionally revealed. I won’t spoil it.

Lila and Karen’s experience seems simultaneously so extreme and yet so plausible. Dolan acknowledges this, and suggests that rather than a one-off aberration, it is a ‘signal of climate change’. And suddenly she’s at breaking point, and admits that she’s ‘not sure [she] has the skills’ to deal with it herself. She is distraught, and by the end, so are we.

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Jessica Lord

at 11:18 on 12th Aug 2017

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'The B*easts': Absolutely mesmerising theatre. Intensely thought provoking and wonderfully presented. Monica Dolan is a treat to observe.

I entered the theatre slightly confused as to whether this show was going to be about ‘Beasts’, ‘Breasts’ or ‘B*easts’ (which I was intrigued to understand the meaning of). Yet it was about all three, as Dolan explored the taboo that surrounds the highly evocative, and intensely sexual organ that is, the female breast. A show about breasts you say, what’s so moving about that? Well, quite where to begin.

Without wanting to give too much away, Dolan plays Tessa, a councillor working with the mother of a child who received an operation for a cosmetic boob enhancement, at the age of eight. In Brazil. During term time. It’s a shocking, raw, and outlandish tale, and yet Dolan presents it with such grace and sensitivity, as she explores why and how it came to this.

The deeper issue that Dolan blatantly wants to address is child sexualisation, sexualisation of women in general, and a societal obsession with the female breast. She touches on the issues surrounding breastfeeding in public, child sexting, and the ruthlessness of the media. But does so without it ever coming across as a tirade of anger or bitterness. It’s almost like a plea, a plea for change, and a plea for the future of young girls everywhere.

Occasionally during the piece, a phone would sharply ring, and we learnt that Tessa herself was in a heart wrenching position. The last phone call to her husband/partner (it’s not made explicitly clear) was particularly poignant and I was surrounded by audience members trying to remain emotionally resolute - and failing.

To say the lighting, use of props, and set was simplistic would be a fairly accurate assessment of the staging. It was basic and this worked with the content as I think anything overly dramatic would have detracted from the beautifully written script.

My only slight critique would be that I did feel a little lost to begin with. I entered the show without having read anything about it - and it wasn’t until halfway through that I started to settle into the storyline. Simply put, my connection with Dolan’s character wasn’t instant, and the heaviness of the content did make it difficult to become invested in the storyline, until at least midway through.

That being said, I would highly recommend this production. I’m writing this review several hours after watching it and yet I can’t stop thinking about it. Dolan shines, she is a simply stunning actress, and this production is an incredibly poignant piece.

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