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Separating from a partner may seem like the end of the world, but in Rose Williams’ new play “Beef,” which is currently playing mid afternoons in C Soco, the two are conflated into a sort of optical illusion, so that the same play appears simultaneously as two different stories. Rachael (Rose Eccleshare) has finally resolved to bid farewell to her husband, Mark (Will Randall), but her leave-taking coincides with a number of increasingly apocalyptic circumstances and what Mark believes to be the end of days.

There are floods down in the village and Rachael ends up consigned to her home, which luckily stands on the crown of a hill, whilst a collection of casual acquaintances and complete strangers arrive to seek refuge. Mark grows adamant that these unwanted callers have to remain in his house, and he attributes this conviction to a visionary dream about a cow which had sheltered on an island in the floodwater. But just as a cow will descend upon an appetising patch of grass to keep it dry in the rain, the prophet Mark is at some level of consciousness protecting his life and marriage from inevitable change.

Mark and a cow have met in a dream, but after watching this whimsical play you may conclude that Mark is the vision and that this is really the cow’s dream. “Beef” runs with the juices of a very fine and subtle implausibility, and if prepared by an inferior kitchen, this meal could have been a messy disaster. Yet we are in the hands of Tychy‘s favourite student-run theatre company, Nottingham New Theatre, and the quality of the acting renders “Beef” characteristically scrumptious.

Like most experimental cuisine, it is admittedly not wholly filling. The cast is too big and with too many cooks spoiling the broth, the story of the bit-part character Friday (Francesca Andrews) ends up being summarised in a single line. The play also begins with a preacher (Max Benenson) addressing us in an outlandishly wonky Irish accent to warn about “thwickedness.” One assumes that Benenson is only doing this because he has lost a bet with the rest of the cast.

Other New Theatre productions have portrayed the sufferers of ME and schizophrenia in the light of fantasy worlds, and “Beef” insists that the breakup with a partner can be as powerful as a mental illness and that its sleep of reason can likewise breed monsters. Yet “Beef” also benefits from having the shape and structure of a rather hectic house party, and one can imagine most of its characters looking back on the apocalypse as fondly as one remembers a weird, wild night from their student days.

[Unfunny joke edited from this review: “With its references to “huge” cows and torrential rain, “Beef” is custom built for Underbelly’s Pasture.” Tychy previously reviewed NNT’s “Chasing Dragons.” Ed]

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