Left – Hamish Michael, Sheridan Harbridge, Travis Cotton, Virginia Gay, Tom Budge and Kate Mulvany. Photo – Jeff Busby
Too funny. Eddie Perfect's satire The Beast storms to the edge of bad taste then hurls itself over it. Good satire is difficult to carry off: has to be really amusing to be effective theatre rather than a bitchfest that leaves audiences flat and resigned. Commissioned by Brett Sheehy for The Melbourne Festival, The Beast has met and exceeded all expectations piled around it; it's a black and murkily hilarious work, well-paced with writing that's tightly in control of itself. We know how talented Perfect (his real name) is from his career in musical comedy; The Beast is his first work without musical score, song or himself. (It does, however, feature a ludicrously trippy farmyard animal noises soundscape).
The play riffs with what happens to a group of affluent city slickers, three couples who've moved to the country to live the slow food life, when they are put to the test by having to slaughter their own dinner. The menfolk have a history and the not-so-deeply buried subplot threatens to blast apart their cosy new self sufficiency and sense of environmental self-righteousness.
Urban style trends don't blow away in a country breeze: the windows of Sue and Rob's new ecologically sustainable house are triple glazed so they can't hear their friends-now-neighbours banging to be let in. The character Baird (Travis Cotton) is beset with confusion as to how one can tell what's in style and what's not, providing an opportunity for a thoroughly patronising titbit of repartee from neighbour Sue. 'Things just taste better when they're delivered on a bike,' she says. Simon, played by Hamish Michael, is an arrogant arsehole of deliciously gigantic proportions who insists on 'saying it like it is' which humiliates his put upon partner Gen, played with nicely refined comic timing by Sheridan Harbridge. Viriginia Gay is superb as Sue, the domineering wife of Rob, and his passive aggression is sharply and very amusingly drawn out. Tom Budge's Rob stands out in terms of physicality here – look out for his minute routine with the oven gloves.
Rivalry between old mates Simon and Baird drives much of the story though I found the 'wine scene' somewhat overdrawn, it seemed added on to give Baird more to do although he does get to say to Simon “I'm having difficulty reading your tone”. Kate Mulvany gives Marge a vitality that builds up to a winningly ball-breaking scene with Simon, who deserves much much worse. Marge is no nicer to her spouse than Sue is to Rob. 'You look like Tom Selleck's dick,' she comments to Baird when he comes out in his triple denim farm gear.
Opening night saw an uneveness in the overall timing and rhythm of the staging but it was obvious this would sort itself very quickly. The actors have been instrumental in creating the characters and developing the story, something which is evident in the palpable sense of a strong ensemble. Director Iain Sinclair has the best time taking the 'cow scene' to disturbing places where you gasp and laugh knowing you shouldn't. And then there's that beautiful cow puppet with its shiny eyes. Oh dear.
Melbourne Theatre Company presents
by Eddie Perfect
Director Iain Sinclair
Venue: Southbank Theatre, Sumner
Dates: 3 October – 9 November 2013
Tickets: from $58
Bookings: 03 8688 0800 | mtc.com.au