The B*easts  – The Bush, London

Writer: Monica Dolan

Director: John Hoggarth

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

It may take a while to understand the point of the asterisk in the title of this show, but once you’ve figured it out, it gives you a clear clue to what this play is about. Even in 2018, the word is still considered by some to be a dirty word, something to be whispered rather than said out loud. Monica Dolan’s powerful monologue examines the problems society has with this word.

It’s difficult to discuss this play without giving too much away. Dolan’s superior storytelling has surprises at every turn. Sitting down in a comfy armchair, Dolan’s unnamed character confides secrets to her audience, but we seem to have arrived too late, as we’re not sure who or what she is talking about. Her story meanders and stumbles, and when Dolan brings out of her bag a miniature bottle of whiskey, we wonder if she’s drunk. She realises our confusion, and so backtracks, but still we struggle to get a grip on Dolan’s tale.

It seems that she is in a position of power, but her scatty monologue suggests that maybe she’s feeling the pressure of her occupation. Perhaps she is the patient, rather than the doctor, the analysand rather than the analyst. This deliberate obfuscation is a good trick, as, straight away, the audience is forced to listen, and encouraged to unravel the tangles it’s been handed.

And slowly the story forms. It’s a complex and contemporary tale of how advertising and other media distort ideas of a ‘normal’ body image, and how children grow up with unrealistic expectations. Dolan tells a story of a mother listening to two young girls browsing a catalogue. ‘I want that one, I want that one’ she hears the girls proclaim, but she is surprised to learn that the children are not coveting the clothes in the catalogue, but the bodies of the models who wear them.

Dolan’s story is only an hour long, and she leaves us eager for more, despite the production being somewhat static. She is sat down most of the time, only standing up when her mobile rings to the theme music of the old TV cop drama Cagney and Lacey. Inevitably, the monologue is reminiscent of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads with its dry Northern humour, and there is something of Victoria Wood or Julie Walters in Dolan’s conspiratorial delivery.

The story she tells sounds outlandish, but you’ll be Googling it later to see if it has any basis in truth. This demonstrates how skilled Dolan is here.  She is a natural raconteur and, although the raked seating doesn’t invite intimacy, we are just about close enough to see how painful this tale is to her.  The B*easts is no bedtime story.

Runs until 3 March 2018 | Image: Alan Harris

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No bedtime story

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