“Essex-y, but not from Essex”
There’s a temptation to raise an eyebrow when a well-known actor gets a writing commission. 2013’s The Herd was a perfectly decent play but would it have got the same attention were it not written by Rory Kinnear? Who knows. Also at the Bush, we now have Monica Dolan’s The B*easts but over an intense hour, there’s little doubt about the quality here.
Dolan’s monologue takes a long hard look at how the increased sexualisation that has seeped into the very marrow of Western society and how not even our children are immune from its effects. She plays Tessa, a psychotherapist who has been called in to assess a mother who has been placed under the spotlight for allowing her daughter to have breast implants. Her daughter who is eight years old.
It’s a canny format as the very nature of Tessa’s intervention is one of a desire to probe into the issue, understand it rather than race to judgement. It turns out the young Lila actually was the one who wanted the surgery and that emerges as a fascinating thread – who is responsible for the awakening of such desire.
Clickbait-chasing journalists have alighted on the ‘easy’ victim of Lila’s mother Karen, issues of class factoring in too as vitriol and opprobrium are hurled her way. But Tessa guides us through the hypocrisy of a media who profit so much from promoting borderline-criminal sexual imagery at every opportunity from music videos to magazine covers.
Dolan also layers in Tessa’s own life experiences with the device of an ever-ringing mobile phone, through which the role of breasts as a sexual signifier and the weight that a patriarchal society accords them is further explored. This varies the rhythm of John Hoggarth’s production, not by much but enough to stop the piece from feeling too static. And with Dolan in scintillating form with her effortless naturalism, this proves an intelligently provocative play.