Writer: Louisa Ashton
Director: Shelley Knowles-Dixon
Reviewer: Sophie Huggins
Straight into superhero action, full of goggles, baddies and slow-motion fist fights erupts I Am Beast, an inventive tale illustrating how an immersion of the imagination can be a support system for grief.
As a fourth major production for Sparkle and Dark, the theatre company introduce Ellie, a troubled teenager who, to cope with the recent loss of her mother, transports her reality to the fictional land of paradise city. Here she is alter-ego and superhero goddess Blaze, frequently saving the day against the evil Dr Oblivion, and after losing her sidekick Silver is often helped by fellow vigilante Captain Lightning.
Often swiftly and cleverly shifting between fiction and reality, the superhero world abruptly ends, landing back in Ellie’s bedroom to her Dad gently knocking on the door. With the loss of his wife, it is clear his and his daughter’s relationship is fragile and the connection Owen Bevan and Hannah Lawrence have is tender and well portrayed. There is a soft vulnerability to Bevan’s characterisation and the audience becomes rightly invested in their relationship.
As a suitable contradiction and fitting metaphor, Ellie’s Dad becomes the arch nemesis in her imagined world, real life love interest, Sam, morphs into fellow goodie Captain Lightning and her mother is the lost companion Silver. All the actors fluidly and energetically morph between many characters, editing costume as they go from stereotypical fantasy to committed puppeteers and their efforts are entirely commendable. Lawrence, as the static protagonist, enthusiastically reverts to her inner child and offers a sincere portrayal of a grieving youngster.
One of the most impressive and compelling aspects of this production is the sound, all created live on stage by the calm and poised Lawrence Illsley. Perfectly underscoring the action, this is a true credit to the composer’s skill, if only he had been somehow linked into the narrative, this would have completed his role. The costumes, by Lenka Kupkova and the lighting, designed by Claire Childs also are the highlights of this show, being both exciting and bold to practical and appropriate; a tough balance to find.
There are spouts of physically exhilarating storytelling and one key device is a puppet; a demon embodiment of grief, however, its connection to the story, it’s own narrative and its relationship to Ellie are not made clear. Although well animated and an imaginative idea, it does not feel integral to the storytelling nor adds anything; merely a subplot over-reflecting the themes. This overstatement of theme becomes recurring as, with the action taking place in two worlds, the similar scenes begin to feel blurred in repetition and the piece feels slightly over its time with several possible endings. For example, Ellie and her Dad share a tender hug at the end in which the audience know everything will be alright. Sadly, this is then also explained to us in a monologue to which Ellie tells us this phrase and it feels completely unnecessary – more is often said through action, not words.
Despite these refinements, this production is playful and creative and a clear example of how research not only underpins but nourishes the material and it is clear there was depth to the devising process. Its key flaws are an over exposition on its themes and lack of clear story, but through a committed ensemble and investigated topic does present a relatable tale that warms and excites an audience’s hearts.
Reviewed on 29 May 2017
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