Left – Alison Bell, Rohan Nichol and Christie Whelan-Browne. Cover – Alison Bell and Eddie Perfect. Photo – Ken Nakanish
If Eddie Perfect's play The Beast was showing at Melbourne's Comedy Theatre for more than two weeks, I suspect it might attract the sort of cult following that sees fans bring water pistols and rice along to The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Beetroot and carrots make what is probably their theatrical debut in highly suggestive roles and there is enough gore engulfing the stage by the end of Act I that it takes the clean-up crew all interval to restore order. In fact it's a bit of a mess-fest at times, with all bodily functions covered, and no taboo left unturned.
While some of the more cataclysmic moments do plunge occasionally into farce, the moments that provoked the audience into the most gasps and laughs were those that revealed the hidden faults, deceit and hypocrisy of the three couples whose personalities and relationships we watch unravel on stage.
Eddie Perfect likes his humour dark and loves to highlight the most dysfunctional elements of "nice society". He had many targets in his sights when he wrote The Beast, but the main object of his ridicule is the tendency of middle-class overthinkers to worry more about being seen to do the right thing than actually doing it.
The six souls at the centre of Perfect's story all consider themselves to be good people but, after a life-changing experience inspires them to make a tree-change and embrace a simpler, more sustainable lifestyle, their prejudices and foibles float to the surface.
The catalyst for the final climactic reveal is a decision to buy a beast for humane home slaughter, with the aim of respectfully transforming it into a multi-course degustation with matched wines. The creation of the prop cow (puppeteer is Orlando Norrish) and its handler deserve a blue riband but the post-butchering conversation is, well, a killer too.
With a butcher's precision, Perfect manages to cut to the cultural quick and make the harshest, squirm-inducing critiques of his peers – and yet somehow he does it with affection.
It's a brave line to take when your audience is cut from the same demographic cloth as your characters, but as Perfect pushes his couples into increasingly awkward scenarios and the situation descends into chaos, even the overtly obnoxious Simon (Rohan Nichol) does not stray too far outside the realms of recognisable reality.
Commissioned by by the Melbourne Theatre Company, The Beast was first performed in 2013 and references to Northcote 'types' and real estate conversations make it a very Melbourne play, but the characters can be found in every corner of the free world. Possibly in more civilised places, too.
The writing is tight and precise and would probably reveal more with a second viewing, while all of the players – including Eddie himself as the self-made man from the wrong side of the river – are enthusiastic and, well, pretty damn perfect.
There might have been moments when the recognisable but still complex characters didn't hold true or strayed from their script; one of the simple but effective set pieces may have malfunctioned or not been placed correctly. I wouldn't know – I was enjoying myself too much to notice.
Ambassador Theatre Group Asia Pacific and Red Live present
by Eddie Perfect
Director Simon Phillips
Venue: Comedy Theatre | Exhibition St, Melbourne
Dates: Until 10 September, 2016
Tickets: $79.90 – $132.24