Following a well-received run at the Edinburgh Fringe, actor Monica Dolan’s writing debut arrives at the Bush Theatre. A provocative monologue performed by Dolan herself, The B*easts tackles the sexualisation of children, and nudges us into a hypothetical future that feels all too possible. The central premise of the show, while a surprise, is not necessarily a spoiler. A young mother buckles under mounting lifelong pressure from her 8-year old daughter who is desperate to have a woman’s body, and consents to take her to Brazil for a breast augmentation procedure. It’s a tricky scenario to sell and it’s to Dolan’s credit that she manages it, setting out the scenario in a way that feels dangerously plausible. Once back in the country, the child becomes a focal point, and the time-honoured rhythms of shock, scandal and outrage unfold in their depressingly familiar way. Dolan plays Tessa, a psychotherapist becomes involved with the case and retells it dispassionately.
Telling the story from a point of view of calm detachment and wry clinical observation is a shrewd choice. As the story unfolds engrossingly with an almost thriller-like gradual reveal of details, Dolan makes a mark as a great storyteller, interjecting with well-honed observations or acutely comic moments that buoy the play along and help drop our guard for its darker moments. And they come.
The play never shies away from one of its key themes – the vilification of the female secondary sex organs, just for the mere act of existing. The child and the mother are reflexively attacked by the press and people, with no consideration given over to why this level of outrage is appropriate. Repeated echoes of ‘responsibility’ and ‘power’ assert the implicit truth – that breasts are considered at large to be weapons, only to be wielded by those who can use them wisely. Rather than sit on the fence about it, Dolan’s writing forcefully tears into and deconstructs the myths.
It’s not a perfect show – Dolan’s character is perhaps too immediately on the side of the mother in the situation, leaving the classism and internalised misogyny instead to the masses in the story – although with so brisk and blazing a show it’s perhaps understandable that self-interrogation is not the priority here. There’s also a narrative thread involving Dolan’s character that doesn’t mesh as well with the rest of the piece, creating a slight feeling of disjointment.
But this should not detract from what is a forthright, considered and frankly astonishing debut about how just how heavily the weight of womanhood hangs. Highly recommended.