by Alexandra Bathman
Directed by Iain Sinclair
Written by Eddie Perfect
The Beast’s promotional banner pictures a lady’s lower half, dressed in city attire, standing in a field as she wields an axe. A lone cow is blurred in the horizon. Cue to the dramatic opening scene and you have three friends and a hopeless skipper stranded out at sea. It’s hilariously chaotic as the group frets for survival. And if they were to survive, the friends pledge to live better lives. Confused at the completely different themes? Somewhat. But it doesn’t matter because the crowd is already laughing.
Well known for his performance in the popular Aussie drama Offspring, many may not know that Perfect has many other talents including being a musician, comedian, singer and director with The Beast being his first attempt at playwriting.
With the crowd already pleased, there comes the next act. One of the men, Rob (Tom Budge) and his wife Sue (Virginia Gay) are moving into their new eco-friendly, minimalist home in The Valley. The other two men Simon (Hamish Michael) and Baird (Travis Cotton), and their wives, Gen (Sheridan Harbridge) and Marge (Kate Mulvany), have made the same move before them as part of their promise to improve their lives after their turmoil out at sea.
Despite the complicated and miserable relationships between them all, they decide to celebrate their reunion with a “nose-to-tail” dinner. It’s apparently “so in” at the moment and of course oh-so-ethical. This involves buying an organic calf, hiring a butcher to slaughter it, and then eating all of the different cuts from the young heifer. The Beast’s promo now makes a lot of sense.
This plot was inspired by Perfect’s own experience when he himself lived in the Yarra Valley. He was a guest at a real “nose-to-tail” dinner – one that he much enjoyed. All the guests mused on the idea of what would happen if the butcher couldn’t make it and that they had to take matters into their own hands.
Luckily this was just conversation, but on stage it’s a completely different scenario as the butcher is in fact a no-show. The once-city-slickers are forced to slaughter the helpless animal but not without comical and gruesome results.
The show gives warning to its audiences: “Recommended for audiences 18+, contains frequent coarse language, adult themes and graphic simulated violence including the use of theatrical blood”. Obviously there isn’t a real calf on stage, but with the use of a seamless moving, mechanical looking calf puppet and very real calf sounds, the slaughtering is squirm-worthy. Still, it’s hilarious in a Monty-Python-gore fashion. (Perhaps only if you’re not into your animal rights – but that’s probably the idea.)
“Sometimes people get attached to a cause not just because they want to do good, but because they want to be seen to be doing good,” he says.
“And then the whole thing becomes about status. Their environmental concern becomes a power play, a contest of who can display the greatest amount of good. The stakes become incredibly high over things which might otherwise seem quite unimportant, like what lettuce is on trend, or what car they’re driving, what nappies they’re using, or what Sauvignon Blanc is good to drink,” Perfect tells MTC’s In for the Chop.
Despite the drama of slaughter, it’s almost a surprise that the group actually does get to sit down and enjoy the different cuts of meat. This is where different cuts of social classes, extramarital affairs and taboo topics are exposed.
The acting in Perfect’s show is, well, perfect. Budge’s performance of the extremely neurotic Rob is one highlight. He brings a bellow of laughter with every line and movement, as his strong stage presence is as physical as it is vocal. Another stellar performance is by Gay, who is well known for her role in the Aussie drama series Winners and Losers. Her performance of Sue, a (mostly) calmly spoken woman very much tailored to eco-living lifestyle, is seamless.
A memorable scene starring Gay is when Baird confronts Sue on his challenges to keep up with lifestyle trends. A trend in particular being the different variety of lettuce that’s “in.” Braid would be looked down upon with the iceberg lettuce in his sandwich. But now after seeing other varieties such as rocket have their turn in the spotlight — before he could catch on — he asks how on earth we could be back to iceberg. It’s an idea that rings true to modern lifestyles – and also to Gay.
“The staff of my entire local cafe have been to see this show. They have an iceberg salad that I go totally nuts for. Now we scream ‘How are we back at iceberg?’ every time I order it. I think Baird is right: you can study trends all you like but by the time you see them, you’re too late to have made them,” she says.
While each performance can be applauded, it is the performances of Hayden Spencer that glue The Beast together.
Spencer plays numerous characters and perhaps that’s why he is so memorable. His random yet continuous appearances keep the show fresh. He is the skipper, the babysitter, the wine maker and the farmer. And if you’re not too enthralled by the killing-of-the-calf scene you might pick that he is also the puppeteer. This is one experience Spencer said he enjoyed most.
“A very steep learning curve for me but I have a new set of skills, or at least a better understanding of puppetry. One of the great things about being an artist is that we are always in the market for new skills,” he says.
What drew Spencer in to this show was that the script was relatable.
“When I auditioned for the beast, the written work was still ‘in development’, but I was well aware of Eddie’s body of work. The voice of these characters is/are very modern or familiar to our audience and for me. When you can strike that you really have something,” he says.
The script certainly is modern and also completely satirical. But it can also be completely offensive. In its quest to be politically incorrect to the extreme, The Beast boasts one-liners including “We don’t like black people.” There is also strong sexual innuendo involving carrots.
Gay muses that she’s eaten probably 150 thousand of them throughout production.
“I can see in the dark now, mate. Truthfully I thought I’d be sick of ‘em, but on Sunday, my day off, I crave one at 10pm. I’ve become conditioned,” she says.
Don’t worry, the carrots are organic.