FINN BREWER applauds the ambition of this verse play which sadly falls slightly short of expectations.

Beast Corpus Playroom elena bolster finn brewer Laura Waldren Sam Grabiner

Corpus Playroom, 9.30pm, Tues 5th – Sat 9th November, £6/5

Sex, love and death. Classic themes for any play, I’m sure you’ll agree, and Elena Bolster’s Beast goes for them with unselfconscious daring. It takes balls to put on a contemporary verse drama, even in a place like Cambridge, and while I salute the ambition of this production, I was left feeling that the execution of it wasn’t quite there.

Beast is about the affair between Egon, a painter, and Valie, a prostitute. The two meet at sea, and enter a dance of love and lust that quickly turns into a struggle with decay and emotional need. In his apartment he paints her like one of his French girls, and over whiskey and cigarettes they spat and bicker. It would have been quite easy for such a story to turn into self-parody, and it’s a testament to the script and actors that much of it is entirely gripping.

Beast‘s best moments are the verse monologues delivered by each lover. At first I found the rhymes unnecessary and off-putting, but as the play went on they became part and parcel of the intense thoughts and emotions of the characters. The language worked particularly well when Egon visualized Valie in paint: the metaphors made perfect sense here, laying bare his feelings for her as she becomes part of his consuming artistic passion. The verse was so good, in fact, that the more natural and prosaic conversations between the two felt flat and boring in comparison.

I think that’s part of the problem with this play: it holds the actors back from truly engaging with each other. There was a lot to like about the performances of both Sam Grabiner and Laura Waldren: they certainly held the attention of the audience for the hour. Scenes such as when Egon washes his hands again and again but can’t get rid of her scent were believable and effective.

There was palpable tension in the Playroom when things got hot and heavy, but overall I just wasn’t convinced by the chemistry between the two. Because Beast is mostly about how love and desire feel on the inside, it comes up short when the lovers confront each other directly – there was always this feeling of ironic detachment in their sparring, and while this worked well at the beginning when the lovers are still sizing each other up, it prevented the final scenes from being deeply affecting.

In short, there’s a lot to love about Beast, and it’s a great play to see if you’ve got a hot date, but despite brilliant acting and great verse, it doesn’t quite reach the heights it sets for itself.