The Public Review by Jonathan Grant *****
Beast is a finely crafted piece of theatre. The hour long, one act play tells the story of the relationship that grows between an ageing artist, Egon, and a young prostitute Valie. Their romance starts from a night of paid for passion and evolves into an artist and his muse discovering a love that is deep and pure.
Bolster has crafted a stylish text. Her fictional story inspired by a painting, she has fleshed out a beautiful yet painfully tragic tableau. At times written in a lilting verse, her mastery of the language is a joy to listen to.
As Egon, Keiron Jecchinis deploys the maturity of his years and talent into an acting tour de force. Every aspect of his vocal delivery combined with his poise and movement, is meticulously crafted, and he transforms as a lover from rampancy to tenderness with a breath-taking elegance.
Mel Oskar is a young Icelandic actress, and her performance as Valie suggests a woman with a profound depth of talent for her age. Hers is an educated and literate character, and her awareness of her deepening love for the older man is a journey that she cleverly performs. At times a coquette, yet always wise beyond her years, she is a joy to watch. And at times of passion within the play both Jecchinis and Oskar come close to re-creating Charles Spencer’s famous quote of “pure theatrical Viagra”, such is the electricity of their (fully clothed) love making
This show is more than just two stunning performances though. It is a convergence of excellence, throughout the creative team. Pryce, together with Jennifer Malarkey who was responsible for Movement, has directed the duo with wit and perception. Alistair Turner’s clever and evocative set uses the tight confines of the White Bear’s auditorium effectively, and Matt O’Leary’s lighting also expands the constraints of the small performing area.
The play represents all that is excellent in London’s fringe and Helen Edwards is to be congratulated on delivering a show that clearly demonstrates a commitment to outstanding production values.
What’s On Stage by Dave Jordan ***
Elena Bolster’s two-hander is a unique piece that is elegiac and erotic, sensual and sensitive. Love and passions ebb and flow in this tale of two tortured souls who, in finding each other, find moments of happiness only to have them disappear and disintegrate. It is based on the relationship between the artist Egon Schiele and his most famous model Valerie.
Alistair Turner’s simple but clever set uses decking as a platform. Raised planks that rise up the rear walls not only provide us with the backdrop for the studio but act as breakwaters when the grainy black and white projections of gulls, waves and fish evoke the sea and the shore nearby.
The two characters introduce themselves, each in their own space on a ship where they first meet. We are witness to their thoughts: Valerie is on the lookout for a pick-up or a vulnerable person to pickpocket, whilst Egon sees her as a possible muse and model. But this is no sordid down-to-earth affair, for the language is poetic and powerful, infused with intense imagery that beguiles and bewitches: “Smile and dance and move the moving hands of yours that know to search my softer deeper spots. You skilfully, begin to join the dots.” And this lyrical interpretation is enhanced by stylised presentation that captures and reflects the play’s hidden depths. Beautifully choreographed movements, developed by Jennifer Malarkey, seem to slow down time as the characters intertwine and part again.
Mel Oskar’s Valie is a sharp, intelligent, passionate girl who can switch emotionally in an instant, revealing her vulnerability. Keiron Jecchinis’s artist is a man who seems unable to deal with his emotions: afraid to let his passions surface yet bitter and angry when illness begins to cripple him and he can no longer paint or love. What are the beasts within and should we control them or let them loose?
The Observer by Euan Ferguson
I was utterly captivated by Beast. Forget the title, this is a love story, much in phenomenal and lilting Irish verse. It tells the slow, awful story of an affair between an elderly artist and a young prostitute. The dialogue and the verse, vulnerable and beautiful, segue perfectly, in between footage behind from a flickering Super 8 of the strangest images of life – fish swarming, docks clanking – and you concentrate, and fall in love with the language and its power, and are left, as so often with love itself, bereft. Writer-director Elena Bolster lost the whole thing on a stolen laptop three years ago: I cheer that she redid it from the start. By the end, there were tears going on near me.
An artist and a whore. They meet by chance, each becoming besotted with the other in a fashion they are not expecting and are unprepared to experience. He is older and cynical, captivated by the contradictions of her youth and grave pragmatism; she is young but no less weary of the world and finds herself swept up in a whirlwind of the directions he turns her heart towards. She chooses to stay with him and a beautiful bond of flesh and feeling grows between the two. Slowly the nature of the agreement begins to change as forces outside and within escalate matters into darker territories.
Portrayed in a variety of media and style, Beast manages to take the sharpest pieces of each, blending and honing them to a pointed and cutting edge that slices straight to the heart’s deepest wells. The actors are as perfect in the roles as could be imagined, Grahame Edwards is resplendently elegant as Egon, proper but with a shabby carelessness that belies his artistic temperament. Aine O’Sullivan’s Valie is a starkly contrasting figure, lithe yet forceful, with even her doughy Irish lilt clashing with his clipped eloquence, the antithesis to his world.
British Theatre Guide by Graeme Strachan
Theatrical verse can be a difficult creature to tame; when cleverly implemented it can elevate a story beyond the confines of the petty normality and everyday affability. Using a clever mixture of prose and verse, Elena Bolster’s provocative and moving script creates a twisting, lusty and breathless journey through the very heart of love, hate and need. Amongst a host of productions this year, Beast stands clear yards ahead of the throng, a moving and beautifully haunting piece of theatre that will break even the hardest of hearts.