Review: ★★★★★ The B*easts, Bush Theatre

BAFTA-winning actress Monica Dolan is performing her debut play at the Bush Theatre after a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017, and you have until the 3d of March to catch it. And catch it you should, because The B*easts is an exquisite work of writing, performed even more exquisitely, leaving one wondering, upon leaving the theatre, how so much talent can be bestowed upon one woman.

Dolan portrays a confident though slightly restless psychotherapist, who, bit by bit, tells us the ins and outs of the story that we ‘must have all heard about’ by now. The story of how one of her patients gave her eight-year-old daughter the thing she desired most: a breast enhancement.

Throughout this unsettling narrative, Dolan, implicitly and explicitly, raises many ethical questions about the way our society deals with women and their bodies. Do we hold big-breasted women ‘accountable’ for their appearance? Should ‘good mothers’ cancel their magazine subscriptions? What role does the press play in the sexualisation of women? And, most importantly in this case, who do the artificial breasts of an eight-year-old girl belong to?

The simplicity of the set – a contained therapist’s office, comprised of a chair and small table with some props – and the minimalist lighting ensure all attention is on Dolan, and she has the audience hanging on her lips as she recounts the events in her unique, compelling way. The staging gives off a no-nonsense vibe, and indeed, the text and the acting are strong enough to carry the piece.

The writing is sophisticated, and Dolan’s dense, fast-paced monologue makes its audience work, not only to construct the sequence of events in the first part of the play, but also, later, to determine how reliable and objective this therapist’s point-of-view really is. We are left to make our own judgments.

Although provocative and dark, from time to time the script is also very funny, eliciting audible – and perhaps relieved? – laughs from the audience. The audience is diverse in terms of age and gender,and the pieceis likely to resonate with all of them in different ways.

The B*easts is a powerful, skilfully executed work of art that is highly relevant in an increasingly mediatised, and perhaps sexualised, world. Dolan does a fantastic job delivering her own play – all 9,500 words of it – and manages to challenge her audience both intellectually and morally. The subject matter will stay with you for a long time, and you’ll go home pondering the blurred lines and twisted ethics of our modern-day society.

Merel van ‘t Hooft. 

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