Review: The B*easts, Bush Theatre

Award-winning actress Monica Dolan leads a whistle-stop tour through an exploration of childhood, victim blaming, and sexism. The author and star of The B*easts, she manages to evoke that kind of deep thought in 60-minutes that most people couldn’t manage in one day. A deservedly decorated and acclaimed piece (winner of the Edinburgh Stage Award, and longlisted for the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award), The B*easts ponders a time-old question in the age of Facebook and Instagram. What can a young girl do in or order to become one of the big girls? But rather than drawing on clichés of tissue stuffed bras which wouldn’t cut it in this filtered and photoshopped age, The B*easts takes a much darker approach. It makes the audience confront the reality that the girls now asking this question are as young as eight, and are willing to force mother nature’s hand if necessary.

We meet Tessa (Dolan), a psychotherapist during some rare downtime in the middle of a busy day, vaping and pouring herself a glass of whiskey. She recounts the story of one of her patients Karen and her daughter Lila who have become embroiled in a national scandal that has society caught up in a moral quagmire that threatens our belief in childhood innocence and challenges our views on agency. The B*easts’s exploration of the pornification of culture is deeply rich and the play very simply, but very potently, highlights the negative effects of women’s magazines and advertising on our perception of people’s behaviour and on young children. Interestingly, The B*easts does not take a moral viewpoint on the actions of both Karen and Lila, recognising that they are both products of a highly sexualised society. It takes aim at society’s readiness to demonise and attribute blame to those who threaten fantasies of innocence, rather than to reflect on itself and change its behaviour.

The only character in the play, Dolan’s Tessa gives a measured performance reminiscent of a friend telling you about the dreadful day she’s had. Tessa is likeable, intelligent and an animated storyteller who continually gesticulates, bringing her story to life. At the same time, there’s a weariness about her, brought on by the weightiness of her work and own personal struggles. Occasionally overly defensive, Tessa seems to pre-emptively counter challenges to her opinions from the audience which never materialise, a sign of her own discomfort with the case she’s working on, or the sign of someone who continually faces pushback for questioning patriarchy and society’s exploitation of sexuality for capitalist gains.

The B*easts is paradoxically ahead of its time and a brutal reflection of the current age that we live in. However, it paints a portrait that we, as a society, are not yet able to face.

The B*easts is playing at the Bush Theatre until 3 March 2018

Photo: Alan Harris

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