The B*easts, Underbelly Cowgate, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show info
Something for the Weekend
Monica Dolan (writer), John Hoggarth (director), James Button (design), Suzanna Rosenthal (producer)
Running time

In the vaulted, aircraft hangar-style Big Belly theatre, the stage is set with an armchair, table with a few books (Your Child, The Brain), box of tissues and whisky glass. Tessa (Monica Dolan) marches in, clutching her mobile phone to her ear in mid conversation.

In grey trousers and baggy beige sweater, she settles down in the chair, draws on a cigarette and faces us intently, as if to say “Are you sitting comfortably, then I’ll begin.” Tessa is a Psychotherapist who, despite Patient Confidentiality, is keen to describe a recent case which has clearly upset her. “I expected that this would have happened in America first.”

We hear about Tessa’s client whom she’ll call “Karen” and her young daughter “Lila,” an intelligent, intuitive child: from just three years old she is allured by glamorous swimsuit models in women’s magazines, at seven, she loves Rihanna and wants a padded bra to look and feel grown up. Lila’s sexual awareness is soon impossible to control and for her 8th birthday, Karen takes her to Brazil for a boob job.

The hyper-sexualisation of little girls today is blatantly promoted through fashion, make up, music, social media, selfie culture and obsession with “beautiful” celebrities. While tattoos are banned for under 18s, there is no legal restriction for ear piercings and cosmetic surgery on children. Against this social background, Tessa has to counsel Karen reagrding potential child abuse or does a mother have the right to guide Lila's emotional, sexual and physical development. It’s a serious ethical issue, but who is to blame?

Tessa’s narrative begins in a quietly composed manner, as if she is trying to recall all the details, truth, facts in chronological order. Monica Dolan relates the dark tale with poetic rhythm and occasional pause for thought, unsure of our reaction. She wants us to understand both sides of the situation, without prejudice. “I am not here to judge,” she admits.

“Ivan’s Widow “ by Tennessee Williams, “Oleanna” by David Mamet and “Blackbird” by David Harrower, cover similar storylines as electrifyingly strong two-hander plays. Likewise, “The B*easts” could be adapted to feature both Tessa and Karen, psychotherapist and patient in their sessions, to enhance this powerful, intimate and intense drama.

However, as a richly-layered solo monologue, Monica Dolan offers a magnetic hold on the audience as the tension builds and finally shifts in focus when we learn about Tessa’s own personal, shocking dilemma.

Show times:
3 - 27 August (not 14) @ 1800
Ticket prices: Weekday, £10 (£9); Weekend (£11)(£10)