Beast or God – Bread and Roses Theatre, London

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

Creator: Erika Eva

Life as a single mother is explored through dance and mime in Ekata Theatre’s short but evocative Beast or God. Devised and performed by Erika Eva, the 40-minute emotional journey starts with a flustered mother rocking her child to sleep, then gingerly leaving the room while trying not to step on that one creaky floorboard that could wake the sleeping babe.

Outside the room, there is a sense of the mother’s isolation affecting her mental health. A pile of washed laundry sits unfolded, and Eva must force her body to turn and look at it, to acknowledge its presence. At various points, the claustrophobia of her situation is expressed as if the walls of the room are closing in. Not the most original or subtle of mimes, perhaps, but Eva sells the anguish of feeling trapped sufficiently well.

As the laundry gets addressed, Eva constructs an elaborate dance routine repeated for each piece of grey cloth. Occasional articles of colourful clothing instil memories of more carefree times: a scarf becomes a skipping rope; a red dress triggers memories of dancing with a much taller man; another dress of a date where she got stood up.

Other intrusions come from the flat above – a party, an argument, a strenuous sex session. Each provokes a different reaction from Eva – while these are intrusions that may wake the baby, they are also signs of life; a life she feels excluded from.

Gradually the sense of isolation begins to lift. Eva’s expressively joyful face, initially seen only briefly amid the frowns and fear first seen, becomes the default. There is a sense of a cloud lifting, of a woman who no longer feels that her baby is the cause of her claustrophobia.

Beast or God draws its title from Aristotle, who is quoted as saying, “He who is unable to live in society… must either be a beast or a god.” The implication is that humans are social animals, and that anyone who rejects that notion must have something wrong with them. Ekata Theatre’s striking piece demonstrates that, while Aristotle’s premise may be true, the reasons why people feel isolated are much less clear-cut.

Reviewed on 3 June 2023

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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