Beast is a love story between a prostitute and a painter that features two actors on an essentially empty stage, seamlessly shifting between passionate exchanges of dialogue and narration through elegant verse.
It’s the debut play from writer Elena Bolster, and seems to be set in a seaside town around the turn of the century, as per the characters’ dress sense and the flickering, black and white stock footage of boats, docks and sealife projected onto the back wall occasionally during the performance.
The writing itself harkens back to earlier eras as well in its phrasing and tone, and its here that the piece’s greatest appeal lies. It’s hard not to get drawn in to the evocative descriptions of life on the seaside, especially when it’s delivered with such a graceful lilt by the performers.
When the play shifts from verse to direct interchanges between the two lovers, however, it starts to falter a little. The premise is not exactly the most original to begin with – the troubled painter and his passionate muse, the hooker with the heart of gold – but where a solid chemistry between the leads could have helped us to see past this, it’s largely absent.
Mel Oskar certainly brings plenty of sly charm to her portrayal of Valie, but Keiron Jecchinis struggles a little with Egon, as his attempts to be playful and endearing with Valie come across as rather forced and unconvincing. He fares much better in the more intense moments, and when an illness takes over Egon towards the end, we finally start to feel the passion that is supposed to burn between them.
We also get glimpses of this in the play’s more physical moments, as when Valie and Egon engage in lustful dances. These flashes of sensuality between the two have an added potency when juxtaposed with the delivery of the verse itself, which is spoken as they stand still and directly to the audience, rather than to each other.
Even when Beast descends into romantic melodrama, as it often does, the captivating verse keeps it from falling off the rails, to the point where you’ll probably find yourself forgiving the affectations and be swept up all the same.
The play was first produced at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2009, and has since been performed in Ireland. This is its London premiere.
Performed at the White Bear Theatre until the 17th June.