Unable to deal with the loss of her mother teenager Ellie retreats to Paradise City, the evil-ridden world of her adolescent imagination. As reality gets increasingly difficult her fantasy world becomes increasingly darker, until the lines begin to blur.
Sparkle and Dark’s ambitious new offering is an almost flawless example of technique and theatrical design. Riffing on Frank Miller’s visual style and Mark Millar’s tone, I AM BEAST’s innovative approach breathes new life into a worn subject. Pivotal to this are the sound and lighting. Paradise City is fittingly dingy under Claire Childs’ neon UV lighting, while an exceptional live score from Lawrence Illsley helps enhance the play’s frenetic pace. And, of course, there is BEAST itself. Looking like a mutated gorilla, Shelley Knowles-Dixon and Peter Morton’s terrifying life-size Bunraku puppet prowls around the stage through expert puppeteering.
But as entertaining as the comic-book tropes are, what really makes I AM BEAST stand out is its emotional resonance. Strip away the aesthetics and you’re left with a very real and very powerful meditation on grief and depression. The fractious relationship between Ellie and her father is genuinely painful, and the audience roots for their reconciliation.
Owen G. Bevan is by far the standout performer, totally believable as the helpless father and brilliantly bonkers as supervillain Dr Oblivion. Hannah Lawrence is very assured as Ellie (and superhero Blaze), but it’s a slow-burner. There is a certain level of trepidation from her at the beginning, but the actor really grows into the performance. By the time she delivers her final monologue, the audience are totally invested.
For being able to get such strong performances from the entire cast, and for choreographing such an intricate technical production, its Knowles-Dixon that deserves the biggest plaudits. It’s a play that requires utmost precision and, under her direction, everyone delivers.
I AM BEAST is a wonderful piece of theatre, and fully deserving of the awards and positive reviews its received. The innovative stage design may bring you to the theatre, but it’s the emotion that will linger.