Relentless satire and fiercely funny
By Bradley Storer
Eddie Perfect’s The Beast, under the direction of Simon Phillips, has made its return to Melbourne at the Comedy Theatre, and set its sights squarely on the Australian middle class. A vicious and satirical examination of class warfare of this ilk hasn’t been seen since the like of Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage – be warned, there will be (literal) blood.
The piece seems particularly suited to a Melbourne audience – the skewering of the affluent and aspirational upper middle class and their conflicts of status anxiety were met with uproarious laughter and applause, with a sense that these people were entirely familiar to those in the crowd.
Alison Bell as the acerbic outsider Marge drew big laughs with her biting wit, and a bone-dry sarcasm that was wielded to maximum effect in every scene. The warmth underneath the barbs was obvious in her interactions with her husband Baird, played by Perfect in addition to writing the text. Perfect touchingly conveys an average man doomed to the eternal ridicule of his pretentious friends while never fully understanding why – the character’s reversal of fortune in a cunning coup later in the piece, while satisfying to watch, feels almost too contrived and convenient to the plot.
Rohan Nichol was astonishingly awful as the smarmy self-appointed ‘leader’ of the male trio Simon, managing to elicit groans with his overbearing sense of entitlement and arrogance, while Christie Whelan Browne as his put-upon wife Gen was the perfect mixture of air-headed sweetness and burning resentment that exploded into some truly hilarious antics during the dinner party scene.
The only weakpoint of the sextet is the third couple – Toby Truslove as the rapidly crumbling Rob manages to find the underlying sweetness and sensitivity of the character but it never fully coalesces into a full characterization beyond the character’s overall oddball escapades and quirks. Heidi Arena as Sue fully commits to her character’s smiling and cheerful hypocrisies but has been directed to play so big that it feels self-consciously artificial to the point of caricature. Peter Houghton ably plays a variety of smaller roles, managed to shift chameleon-like into different characters so diverse that he is almost unrecognizable between them.
While the middle section of the play is wonderfully structured and cleverly written, with a scene involving the slaughter of a cow that had the audience falling out of their seats laughing, the opening scene and the underlying mystery which it wraps around the rest of the piece appears so out of place (and is dealt with so quickly at the conclusion) that it seems almost unnecessary to have them. Watching these characters scrap and vie for dominion is so entertaining in itself and artfully depicted that I would have gladly watched it all night!
Venue: The Comedy Theatre, 240 Exhibition St, Melbourne VIC 3000
Date: 25th August – 10th September
Times: Wednesday – Saturday 7:30pm, Saturday 2pm, Sunday 1pm & 5pm
Prices: $79.90 – $129.90
Bookings: www.ticketmaster.com.au, Ph: 1300 723 038, at the box office.
Image by Ken Nakanishi