Which mammal makes the creepiest sound? If you guessed the fox, you’d be right. Playwright, Titas Halder seems to have picked the perfect animal to represent his protagonist’s psychological struggle. Making its London premier directly after a brief run at Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre, Halder’s new play, Run the Beast Down is an eerie exploration of one man’s descent into madness. After losing his job and his girlfriend while battling insomnia, Charlie finds himself with a blurred sense of reality and self. In the midst of his nightmarish fog, he begins to feel haunted by a mysterious fox, who is either an ordinary stray wandering his neighborhood, or perhaps an anthropomorphic entity out to get him. At night, Charlie hears the fox’s creaking scream, which he accurately describes as “otherworldly.” When we in the audience hear it, sometimes disembodied and sometimes from Charlie’s own mouth, it sends chills down the spine.
Ben Aldridge, the play’s lone actor, gives a commendable performance as Charlie, exhibiting a keen naturalistic spark that blends well with the surreal text. Aldridge is accompanied only by Chris Bartholomew, the on-stage sound designer and DJ. Bartholomew produces a live electronic score, woven into a captivating soundscape that adds an excellent texture to Charlie’s narrative. The direction (Hannah Price) combined with the lighting (Rob Mills and Robbie Butler) and set (Anthony Lamble), also successfully build the mood of the show, and add clarity to the text. Price has Aldridge write on the stage each title of the play’s 7 sections. Over the course of the performance, the small platform becomes crowded with words, giving the sense that Charlie’s psychological conflict is building upon itself. The sparse set consists of a small platform, backed by 8 strips of light slanting upward from the floor, suggesting a lurid, artificial forest. The strips, as well as the rest of the lighting, create a bold and atmospheric mood that complements the soundscape well. The lighting also maintains an excellent specificity, largely using blue and orange to map out the mental war between Charlie and the fox.
The play itself is psychologically compelling, though it takes a little while to gain momentum. The many details of Charlie’s life and personal relationships were occasionally tough to absorb, due partly to the descriptive structure of the text, and partly to Charlie’s own twisted sense of reality. However, these details are rightfully secondary to the play’s overarching themes and impressions, which allow us to become ensnared in Charlie’s psychotic world. Arguably, the play might have worked better if it had not been a one man show. If there had been other actors playing the various roles, we might have gotten a more fleshed out sense of the people in his life, and how each one affected him. Also, we might have gained from seeing more of the events play out, rather than hearing them described to us. But ultimately, what the play lacks in clarity, it makes up for in tone and overall impact, especially when supported by a talented lead and smart production.
By Joe Weinberg