DNA/The Beast (Online review)

DNA/The Beast (Online review)

Following yesterday’s review of a double bill from Golden Age Theatre and to tie in with their recent live performances at The White Bear, here is a second pair of plays from the same series both of which were onstage earlier this week. Once again they are written and directed by Ian Dixon Potter. The other connecting factor this time round is that they are both performed by the same actor, Melanie Thompson who plays a pair of characters who, in their own ways, have strong views and a determined streak as part of their personalities.

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In DNA, Thompson plays Imogen who finds out that she is not who she thought she was – at least in terms of her genetic profile. Following the results of a birthday gift test from My Ancestry.com she discovers that her background is rather more Scandinavian than British unlike her brother who, perhaps rather conveniently, has taken the same test. It appears the pair have differing biological fathers and so Imogen doggedly sets out to track the man down and uses a process of elimination to run him to ground. There’s a double reason for doing so. Naturally she’s curious to get to the bottom of the mystery but she’s also rather desperate to reclaim herself as European following Brexit. Indeed, it seems that this becomes her primary motivation as she wishes to distance herself, at least genetically, from what she sees as a disastrous decision by the British people.

Along the way Dixon Potter’s writing examines the national psyche and genetic make up and Imogen is effectively used as a mouthpiece for what has come to be known as a “remoaner” viewpoint. It will depend on your own outlook and thoughts as to whether you agree with the author/Imogen or not. The various arguments have been so well rehearsed by now that I tended to feel there was really nothing new to say about it all. On the other hand, it is a handy encapsulation of the views of one side of the debate and the character’s search for her own truth mirrors that which society is still going through. Is the current shortage of petrol at the pumps down to Brexit or not? I’m sure Imogen would have something to say on the matter.

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Thompson’s character in The Beast is Caroline, an architect with ambition who finds herself in a male dominated world where she has to fight fire with fire. Senior partner Grossman (significant name) has unreconstructed views about gender pay equality and has hired a number of young women upon whom he preys sexually. Caroline is faced with an invidious choice and enters her boss’s lair with a plan; how this turns out will affect her but also have repercussions for her colleagues – one in particular. Clearly a comment on the whole #MeToo movement of recent years, this is a tightly scripted and thought provoking piece where the actions and morality of both key characters are called into question. When a tragedy ensues the audience is left wondering to whom the title may refer.

I felt this character was better drawn and gave Thompson more to play with although she does a fine job in both pieces. Watching the pair back to back, it at first seemed that the two women were rather too similar vocally but the subtext of the second piece kicked in giving the character greater depth. Both monologues have been filmed straightforwardly in a Talking Heads style consisting of several short scenes. In the first, time passing is marked by the character changing clothes although in the second the same outfit was used throughout; I’m not sure if that was a conscious choice or whether it even matters. The filming of both is in domestic surroundings, presumably because that was all that was available at the time; The Beast would perhaps have benefitted visually from being set in a more obvious workplace.

This monologue series seems to be shaping up nicely and is certainly unafraid to tackle some of the big subjects of the day as evidenced here, in yesterday’s pair about gender politics and in the piece Denial about Covid conspiracy theorists. I’ll certainly be dipping back into more of them over the next few weeks; I’m only sorry they somehow passed me by when first released.

DNA and The Beast are available on the Golden Age Theatre website – click here – and also via Scenesaver  – click here

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