The Beast is shocking and as black as comedy gets. This politically incorrect and at times Python-esque play delivers a sumptuous night of theatre, sure to shock and delight.
Eddie Perfect’s The Beast tells the story of three candle-smelling, carrot-eating, wine-tasting couples who made a tree-change after the men went through a tense ordeal on a boat. After buying a cow to eat nose-to-tail, how do these ‘authenticity’ obsessed people cope when faced with the dilemma of killing an animal? The ensuing behaviour and dialogue results in loud gasps and belly-laughter from the audience. The stakes (steaks?) are high.
The Beast holds a mirror up to Australia’s middle class and reflects back every twisted norm, exploiting just how hypocritical and delusional we’ve become. Perfect’s script is full of quick-witted and clever responses for every line and event. They’re the things we wouldn’t dare think today and become the things the theatre cackles about.
This is seriously funny stuff. Dripping with sarcasm and wit, you’ll find yourself remembering conversations and events similar to what to you see on stage, relating heavily to them. The way the wine-tasting scene is written and presented is particularly familiar.
This ensemble cast is naughty perfection. There’s no holding back and these cunning actors know how to elicit the most dramatic response from each line and gag. In this second run of The Beast, Eddie Perfect is on stage, bringing his character Baird to life. Perhaps the most relatable character, Baird is confused by rapid trend changes and obsession with organic produce. Baird’s most successful triumph earned a hearty applause thanks to Perfect’s beautiful crescendo of revenge.
Married to Baird is Alison Bell’s Marge. As the other half of the ‘relatable couple’, she’s blunt and is the takes-no-crap character of The Beast. Bell delivers a dry and sarcastic tone to the show, allowing the absurdity of some scenes some credibility. Peter Houghton fills the role of the ‘other’ characters throughout the show including a ‘mansitter’ named Jan, pronounced Yarn. Houghton has quirky, fun-filled characters who he slips into with ease, while preserving the intricacies of the varied personalities.
Rohan Nichol as Simon is excruciating. This insecurely arrogant man is someone we all know – and avoid as much as possible – and Nichol nails this crotch-enters-the-room-first embodiment. Simon’s smarminess is particularly painful towards his wife Gen (Christie Whelan-Browne). Whelan-Browne enhances the brokenness of Gen and delivers many of the best lines of the show with ease. It’s fair to say, some of the longest and loudest laughs came from Whelan-Browne’s delivery.
Rounding out the couples are Sue and Rob, Heidi Arena and Toby Truslove respectively. Sue is the trends and image obsessed wife, careful to only discuss appropriate topics, where Rob is the oppressed husband ready to snap at any moment. Arena’s knack for neurotic laughter and parody of a perfect house wife carries scenes well which could have been awkward in the wrong hands. Truslove masters the ‘yes dear’ persona, and keeps his crazy boiling just below the surface. Truslove shines particularly during a scene with Whelan-Browne in which Rob reveals what he’s hiding from his wife.
Ideally, the second half of the second act could have some more attention paid to the book. It feels a bit like a lemon being squeezed after already making lemonade. While good, many conundrums are resolved in the most explosive way possible and it doesn’t sit quite right. Perhaps some resolutions could be revealed earlier in the play to allow for a less jarring section.
It’s nice to see the cast creating the set changes through the set pieces. With set pieces on wheels and backdrop curtains, the scenes are quite minimalistic which further emphasises aesthetic trend-following. The use of lighting and music for set changes and scene splitting keeps the minimalism and reduces cost and work involved. Costumes reflect the affluence of characters without drawing too much attention, though Baird and Marge have more casual clothing, lowering their pretentiousness.
This show is so rich with well-structured jokes and hard-hitting truths that it’s one best seen for yourself. You’ll find yourself laughing harder and louder than you’d usually let yourself in a theatre. It’s rare to find a play that lets the audience lose their inhibitions and biases so quickly and effectively.
Lesson learned: never buy a live cow with friends. Or you can, and potentially encounter the worst dinner party ever for yourself. It’s no surprise The Beast is back after the initial Melbourne Theatre Company Offcuts Section run in 2013. It’s important shows like this are made accessible and commercial so we have the chance to laugh at ourselves.
The Beast is shocking, brilliant and side-splittingly entertaining.
The Beast is on at Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre until 10 September.