The Beast Down
Finborough Theatre January-February 2017
Titas Halder's monologue play is an extended prose poem, an imagistic evocation of chaos that has some very strong moments but is ultimately too over-full, disjointed and, well, chaotic to fully succeed.
This premiere production with Ben Aldridge directed by Hannah Price is essentially a recitation of the poem, capturing some of its passion and intensity but not doing enough to transform it from the printed word to effective theatre.
Aldridge speaks in the voice of Charlie, a Prince-of-the-City banker or broker who has just lost his job and had his girlfriend walk out on him. In his depression he begins to notice signs of decay all around – business corruption, feral children and, most disturbingly, the proliferation of urban foxes.
These mix with dreams, memories and obsessions of his own, including a personal Equus-like childhood religion of foxes, to create a nightmarish reality in which political protests, street mobs and an imagined uprising of the animals against humans lead him to the position of saving the world in a face-to-face conflict with the Fox King.
As a poetic attempt to capture a sense of galloping entropy and an impending breakdown of all human and natural order, Halder's text throws up some powerful images, but too often fails to build on them.
You find yourself wanting him to slow down or stop and let you consider the emotions and mental pictures he has generated in you before rushing sideways into a new arena or vocabulary with which to illustrate his point.
Ben Aldridge performs a marathon in an almost uninterrupted ninety-minute rush of words. But it is a rush of words, and the actor speaks everything with the same speed and intensity, flattening it and running it all together.
Despite pausing at intervals to chalk what amount to chapter titles on the stage floor, he does too little to guide the audience through the jumble of events and images and give some dramatic shape to the text.
Director Hannah Price must bear some responsibility for this, as she must for his weakness at varying speed or tone to match changes in what is being said or distinguishing between various characters and voices in the narrative.
Although Aldridge is the only speaker, this production is really a duet, with 'onstage sound designer and DJ' Chris Bartholomew providing a continuous music and soundscape from a DJ deck and electronic equipment.
Like much else in the play Bartholomew's contribution is sometimes very effective but sometimes counterproductive, as when uneven sound balancing combines with Ben Aldridge's unfortunate tendency to swallow his words rather than enunciating clearly to drown out the speaker.
There is clear potential in both Titas Halder's text and Ben Aldridge's performance. But the one is at least one more rewrite and the other one re-direction away from being as successful as they want to be.
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Review - Run The Beast Down - Finborough Theatre 2017