Monday, 29 August 2016

The Beast, Aug 26, 2016 ***


By Eddie Perfect, produced by Ambassador Theatre Group Asia Pacific & Red Live\
Comedy Theatre, until Sept 4, 2016
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 25
Stars: ***
 Review also in Herald Sun online on Mon Aug 29, 2016 & later in print. KH
(L-R) Alison Bell and Eddie Perfect - pic Ken Nakanishi
In Eddie Perfect’s play, The Beast, the humans are far more beastly than the hapless, bovine creature that they choose to slaughter and eat for their swanky, nose-to-tail degustation dinner.

Directed by Simon Phillips, The Beast is a deeply flawed play that transgresses key dramatic and theatrical rules but, despite all of its faults, it is strangely entertaining and oddly transfixing in a ‘just-can’t-look-away’ way.

The Beast relies on outrageous hilarity and shock value to divert the middle-class viewers who see themselves reflected on stage in three couples comprising six self-indulgent, pretentious characters who purport to be friends but evidently loathe each other.

After Simon (Rohan Nichol), Baird (Perfect) and Rob (Toby Truslove) survive a doomed fishing trip, these three indoorsy, Melbourne blokes make a ‘tree-change’, moving their wives and kids to what sounds like the Yarra Valley where they plan to live a sustainable, ethical and authentic lifestyle.

For these middle-class miscreants, ‘authentic’ means luxury homes, local produce and, on this night, inviting a local butcher to humanely slaughter an ethically reared calf that they will consume accompanied by posh wines.

Perfect’s brutal social satire relies on audacious grotesquery, absurd action and outrageous, politically incorrect views too numerous and awful to mention.

Perfect’s script has a clumsy structure, unclear narrative through-line and no dramatic arc, while his dislikeable characters elicit only occasional sympathy and the relentlessly repetitive dialogue screams for savage editing to reduce the overly long show by 30 minutes.

Initially, the clownish histrionics, wide-mouthed shouting, overstated dialogue, overacting and ridiculous, Grand-Guignol gushes of theatrical blood are funny, but all this absurdity wears thin when there is no pay-off in the narrative.

The style resembles an American sit-com reminiscent of the final Seinfeld episode where the characters received their comeuppance but, although we want Perfect’s characters to suffer as their victims suffered, they escape punishment for their selfish, cruel acts.

Perfect plays Baird with the soft, cow-eyed confusion of the calf that they slaughter but this hides his more dangerous side, while Alison Bell as Baird’s boozy, cynical wife, Marge, provides a welcome still point and a cynical eye on her self-important dinner companions.

Nichol’s Simon is such a vile, cruel and morally corrupt individual that it is surprising that no audience member hurls a smart-phone at him, while Christie Whelan Browne, as his depressed and oppressed wife, Gen, shifts from raging to catatonic in every scene.

Truslove gets plenty of laughs as the medicated, slightly demented Rob, although he plays him like an annoying 12-year old, while Heidi Arena portrays his wife, Sue, as a blousy, slightly hysterical and insecure food snob, and Peter Houghton cleverly plays multiple roles.

Secrets are revealed, marriages compromised and friendships questioned, but The Beast may leave you outraged and gaping at the atrocities, offences and moral murkiness of these characters.

By Kate Herbert

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