Charlotte Pegram reviews The B*easts at the Underbelly, Edinburgh
It’s the sign of an excellent play when it really irks you, and there is something about The B*easts which really riled me.
The B*easts is narrated by a psycho-therapist who has been dealing with a mother, Karen, whose daughter has had a breast enlargement at the age of 8. Karen is being counselled as a result of the court case which ensued after the 8-year-old returned to school after the summer holidays with DD cup size breasts.
The presentation of events is interesting because, contrary to what one might expect, the psycho-therapist strongly supports Karen’s actions. Whilst never openly excusing the mother, she explains how it came about that the mother felt so pressurised by her pre-pubescent daughter that she arranged for the operation to be carried out in Brazil, seemingly with the hope that no one would ask questions.
During this ‘sharing’ of information our psycho-therapist is under a great deal of pressure, or trauma, herself. To reveal what causes that pressure would be too much of a plot spoiler. She is a little drunk and quite emotional. Dolan plays her with so much conviction that it is quite unnerving to be sat in the auditorium with her. Dolan, also the writer of the piece, presents our therapist as a middle-upper class woman who wouldn’t be out of place in the Archers. She imparts her knowledge and opinions of the events with an arch, knowing, sometimes conspiratorial tone. Her lips are often pursed, pressed or pouted. Despite not liking the character before me, I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
The therapist’s staunch defence of her client leads her to blame everything and everyone else; the internet, the media, Facebook, pornography. She seems to decry the whole world in a way that seems clichéd, if not entirely redundant or indeed false. It cannot be denied that there is something at fault in our society with the way we currently approach sex and the sexualisation of young girls, but it isn’t anything new either. What is perhaps most upsetting in this play is not the issues itself, but watching how our therapist deals with them – the one woman who feels that she is supposed to be able to help, but cannot.
Monica Dolan’s performance is absolutely captivating. Make sure you watch this with someone who is fully prepared to spend the rest of the evening discussing it with you.
The B*easts plays at the Underbelly, Edinburgh until August 27th.