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Bea – South Street Arts Centre, Reading

Writer: Mick Gordon

Director: Chris Snow

Reviewer: Tom Finch



FreeRange Productions are a young company with big ambitions and it is to their credit that they have staged this challenging play which deals with the emotive subject of euthanasia.

Bea, a teenage girl who is confined to her bed is succumbing slowly but surely, day by day, to an unnamed disease which will, at some point, kill her. When a new care assistant arrives she dictates a letter explaining to her mother that she wants to die, soon and on her own terms. What follows is a strange and emotional exploration of empathy, identity and of course death.

The cast of three all work hard to give their characters depth and humanity. Isabel Brodie is Bea, a girl on the verge of becoming a woman imprisoned by her own body. She is on stage, on a bed, for the duration of the piece and does not falter for a moment. Her wide eyes sparkle as she playfully teases her carer and as she falls closer to death and pain takes her hold she gives a genuinely unsettling performance. Imogen Eley as Bea’s mother does her best with the rôle but it is sorely underwritten making her somewhat rapid change of personality difficult to swallow; this felt more like a fault with the script rather than the performance.

James Blake-Butler is simply a delight and ultimately becomes the star of the show as Bea’s carer Not-Gay-Ray. Staunchly denying his homosexuality he is camper than Christmas and lights up the stage with his frantic, erratic behaviour. His one man performance of a scene from A Streetcar Named Desire could be a show in itself and was a definite highlight of the evening. He also manages to display the darker side of his character with fleeting glimpses of something not altogether healthy.

The play itself makes some very interesting points on death and on empathy. Bea’s mother points out sadly that a wife who loses her husband would be a widow, a child who loses their parents becomes an orphan but there’s no word for a parent that loses a child “even language knows it’s not supposed to happen.”

Unfortunately there are a few flaws in the play, Ray’s behaviour is often shockingly and increasingly inappropriate and though he continually gets caught he only loses his job once (and for less than a week), I’d have called the police if it were me! Also a convention which sees Bea jumping up and down on her bed, full of life, despite being too ill to roll over is not developed in quite enough detail to be clear until the final scenes.

Overall this is a brave, ambitious and ultimately successful production with some lovely touches. The scene changes are surprisingly enjoyable and engaging (even if one or two go on a little bit too long) and there is a real energy to the piece, the pace is fast and although some aspects of the play are outside the realms of plausibility I for one was never bored and left the theatre with plenty to think about.

Runs until 6th January 2012 at South Street Arts Centre, Reading


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