A modern day satire, which tears our notions of morality to shreds, The Beast is an at-times-hilarious rant on urban culture, an organic lifestyle and infidelity. Written by Eddie Perfect and featuring him and six other actors – Heidi Arena, Peter Houghton, Alison Bell, Rohan Nichol, Toby Truslove and Christie Whelan Browne – it was first staged by MTC in October 2013. Now it returns as an independent production directed by Simon Phillips at the Comedy Theatre.
The idea came from a real life dinner party when Perfect was living in the Yarra Valley in Victoria. He and his wife became friends with people who worked in the food and wine industry and a couple bought a cow and had it humanely slaughtered, employing a mobile butcher to do the work. The butcher fell on his knife and cut his hand open and had to be rushed off to receive medical attention. The people Perfect was with were joking about what would happen if the butcher didn’t turn up to such an event and Perfect thought that was a great premise for a play.
“If you had to slaughter a cow yourself and you botched it, it would ruin every part of the ethical reason why you started that journey in the first place,” Perfect says. Perfect finds humans embarrassing at best and downright detestable at worst and he brings us to account in The Beast. “The middle class can adopt these specific causes because they are on trend, in fashion and they make you look good and they are more into the idea of looking good than actually being good.” He wanted the play to be quite brutal and that it is, but also very, very funny.
Three men – mates – are marooned at sea without food or drink after a novice skipper – strongly opinionated and now deeply delusional – took them on the fishing trip without checking the weather forecast, which was appalling. Desperate and hungry, it appears they will all die, but miraculously they don’t. Next thing you know and we cut to the trio’s personal lives, as married couples and then “enjoying” each other’s company. They have each made a tree change, moving away from suburbia. One has had a nervous breakdown, another has had an affair with a young African woman while on a business trip and a third is having trouble “getting it up” and impregnating his wife after she lost a baby. They decide to share a meal together in which they eat a specially prepared, hand-reared, organic calf, only the butcher fails to show up and all hell breaks loose when they take matters into their own hands.
At times Perfect’s black humour cuts to the quick. Importantly, he ignites passion in an audience. There were elements – particularly in the first act – that had me doubled over in laughter. He pushes the envelope and then some as audible gasps circle the theatre. Perfect has an ability to capture the absurdity and hypocrisy of man like very few other writers and he has brought this to bear in The Beast. To say he deals here with flawed creatures is a gross understatement. The talented cast capture the nuances of their respective roles perfectly.
We reached interval in double quick time, a sure sign I was thoroughly enjoying myself. Sure, it is over the top, at times very silly, but middle class consciousness is very much in the firing line and on that front Perfect doesn’t miss a beat. The play runs for 2½ hours including a 20-minute interval. The Beast, which appears to live by the adage that nothing exceeds like excess, is playing at the Comedy Theatre until 10th September. It stands out for all the right reasons, so I invite you to get lost in the melodrama.
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television