The B*easts at Bush Theatre
In our culture breasts are a battleground, the ultimate object of sexualisation and shame, the primary site where a woman is forced to endure the burden of society’s reactions to her body. Monica Dolan takes this notion to the extreme – however uncomfortable that may be – in her razor sharp, close to the bone The B*easts. It’s not only good; it’s necessary.
Dolan’s psychotherapist sits centre stage – though to say she sits is a bit disingenuous. She never stops moving, clearly unused to having a moment to relax – vaping away as she tells the story of Lila and Karen: an 8-year-old girl with breast implants and the mother who bought them for her. It’s a scandal informed by a pornified media (both traditional and social), before graduating to the kind of fodder such vampiric platforms thrive upon. The press becomes just one part of an insidious web of relationships between the healthy, normal impulse of the child to “be a big girl”, and the way such a wish is warped by a wider environment that seeks to sexualise everything.
In lesser hands The B*easts could easily feel like a gender studies lecture. Yet Dolan takes a few important steps to theatricalise what’s going on, while constantly pre-empting assumptions and judgements, never allowing the audience to settle into any kind of intellectual complacency.
First is the deliberate way the actual narrative is unpacked, a bleak journey that manages to shock while avoiding any sense of sensationalism. Then there’s the role of Dolan’s psychotherapist, Tessa. Running beneath the story of Lila and Karen is that of her own bodily struggles, gradually revealed through the phone calls that repeatedly interrupt her monologue. This strand doesn’t exactly work – instead of adding a further layer of complexity, it leads the play towards an overly neat ending – but it does act as another method for Dolan to constantly upturn expectations.
The furious rigour of Dolan’s writing is also present in her performance. Her clinical, if conversational, air starts to crumble as the play goes on. It’s replaced by a barely repressed anger and disgust at a world more willing to let toxic cliché turn into harmful universal truth than engage with, and change, such a culture.
Photo: Alan Harris
The B*easts is at Bush Theatre from 14th February until 3rd March 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.