★★★★★ The B*easts at the Bush Theatre
TV’s Monica Dolan is astounding in this engrossing and provocative rumination on the sexualisation of our children. A solid gold triumph.
For many of a certain generation, the one-woman show still conjours images of Chandler’s trip to the theatre… Which is, of course, mostly unfair, and never proven more so than in Monica Dolan’s first play, The B*easts.
Dolan owns the sparse stage, a can’t-take-your-eyes-off-her presence from the off, fidgeting, rocking and shifting in her functional armchair, drink and e-cig perched on an equally functional side-table. The tone, to begin with, is light, jokey, conspiratorial. Dolan effortlessly draws you in as if it’s just you and her having a heart to heart.
Dolan is Tessa, a psychotherapist relating a story about a patient of hers, unconcerned about betraying doctor-patient confidentiality because, in the fictional world of the play, the story she is telling has been the focus of mass media attention. She tells of Karen, the patient, whose young daughter Lila’s yearning for the bodies of the women she sees in magazines leads to an all-too-imaginable moral maze of decisions, consequences and recriminations.
At the same time, through hearing Tessa’s end of brief telephone conversations interrupting her monologue, we learn more about the life of the therapist, and the unique perspective she has into the wider story of womanhood and the ownership of ones physical attributes.
Dolan expertly balances the role of therapist-cum-storyteller-cum-philosophiser-cum-lecturer-cum-conversationalist, subtly shifting between tones, moods and tempos. She masterfully takes the audience on a journey, teasing incomprehensible details at the start and then gradually revealing layer after layer of the central story.
The B*easts is provocative in the sense that it forces the audience to confront a difficult, sensitive topic, and consider the causes and implications from several angles. However, it is never sensationalist, treating delicately yet honestly and unflinchingly a topic which might otherwise have been hammered home with numbing bluntness or voyeuristic exploitation.
At just 65 minutes, The B*easts is one of those shows that whizzes past without ever feeling rushed, and will stick with you long after the final, well-deserved curtain call. It does not presume to offer all of the answers to the central moral questions, but gives enough food for thought to keep you running things through in your head – or with others over a few glasses of wine. Excellent stuff.