Tuesday, 20 February 2018

The B*easts - Bush Theatre

Written and performed by BAFTA-winning Monica Dolan, The B*easts is a one-woman show exploring the sexualisation of the female body, particularly among young girls. The play, which won a Stage Edinburgh Award for its stint at Edinburgh Festival Fringe, is running at Bush Theatre until 3rd March.

Monica Dolan’s protagonist is a therapist, Tessa, recounting the story of an eight-year-old girl and her mother, who came to the rather brutal attention of the media and public when the young girl convinced her mother to buy her breast enhancements. Through this tale and Tess’s involvement in the case, Dolan explores whether children are becoming more sexualised because of societal pressures, or whether society deems quite normal and natural behaviours and instincts sexualised, unnecessarily so. It’s a dark and shocking story, but one full of many uncomfortable and recognisable truths.

Putting aside the very complex subject of the hour-long piece, it’s a simple production. Sharing the stage only with a side table and lamp, Dolan leaves her armchair just three times throughout the performance, barely needing to lift a finger to keep the audience enthralled. And this is a credit to both the perceptive narrative journey and her beguiling demeanour.

It’s unclear exactly who Tessa addresses; it could just as conceivably be herself, an old friend or of course a room full of strangers, yet Dolan draws the audience in with the effortless warmth and fond familiarity of someone you’ve known your whole life. In fact, the protagonist holds as many dimensions as the material itself. Her sharp wit and sarcastic remarks shrewdly support even the severest of notions.

Though Tessa’s monologue is carefully constructed and delivered with the fluidity of an impromptu anecdote, it is exceptionally well structured, simultaneously presenting an intelligent exploration of our culture and a gripping account of a rather dark tale. While the therapist transparently puts forward her own views, it is on the whole a balanced narrative, provoking questions rather than coercing the audience into any particular moral standpoint.
The only given here is that the female never really has ownership of her own body, and especially not her breasts.

The phone calls that temporarily pull the therapist from her narrative give insight into her character in addition to offering another perspective on the female body. However this insight and its emotional conclusion do leave you wondering if Tessa’s own struggle with her body has impacted her judgement of the situation in hand. Not to say that this makes her judgement any less valid, but in a piece that so ruthlessly throws difficult questions, it’s an interesting undercurrent to consider.

The B*easts would be worth seeing for Dolan’s performance or the script alone, but with the two so impeccably intertwined, it becomes an unmissable piece of theatre.

*I was gifted this ticket in exchange for a review, but all words and opinions are my own.

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