Hirson's comedy, in London for the summer on its way to Broadway, is
the vehicle for two outstandingly entertaining bravura performances of
very different sorts, and for some very clever and witty writing - and
those are more than enough to carry you through a plot that will have
little interest for you and themes that are even more ignorable.
it for the fun of seeing it, not for anything you expect to carry away
with you afterward.
play in sixteenth-century France (lots of silly costumes and wigs -
think Three Musketeers), where a playwright-manager is forced by his
rich patron to take on her new protégé, a thoroughly untalented
writer-actor who is also a coarse boor and a terminally boring
the poor guy
survive the relentless onslaught of tastelessness and gabble without
strangling the newcomer, and will he finally compromise his standards
to keep his job? Frankly, you won't care, and you may even find
yourself forgetting that that's the ostensible plot as you enjoy the
tortures the newcomer is putting him through just by trying to be
won't give more than a moment's passing thought to a debate that arises
late in the play, about whether it is a sign of a debased society that
it consistently chooses bad art over good.
considerably more interest and entertainment is Hirson's mastery of the
tremendously difficult form of comic rhymed couplets, which never get
boring, obtrusive or strained, and which constantly surprise and
delight, so that you find yourself looking forward to what the next
rhyme will be, or how he'll break up the lines to create the impression
of natural dialogue or surprise us with punchlines: 'He is, and there
are very few,/ An idiot savant.' - 'That's partly true.'
you will take
uninterrupted delight in are the performances of Mark Rylance as the
boor and David Hyde Pierce as his victim. Rylance won every acting
award going last year for his performance in Jerusalem, and unless
there are rules against repeats, it looks like he has this year's
prizes sewn up.
monster of good will and bad taste, totally oblivious to the pain he is
causing everyone as he rattles on incessantly about how shy and
tongue-tied he is, or blindly pours insult upon insult as he imagines
he's being complimentary.
structured the play so that, after a brief set-up scene, Rylance enters
and chatters on without apparent pause for breath for close to a
half-hour. That's not only an accomplishment of endurance, but of
extraordinary comic juggling, as the actor - aided by Hirson's witty
writing and director Matthew Warchus's guidance - finds every possible
laugh in the lines, adds more of his own, and keeps the balls in the
air with such style and ease that you are simultaneously at the edge of
your seat and relaxing in the presence of an absolute master.
Rylance's character never shuts up means that David Hyde Pierce's has
difficulty getting a word in edgewise. But keep your eyes on him
through Rylance's half-hour ramble, and get a master class in comic
reactions, as Hyde Pierce finds every subtle variation on silent
exasperation, frustration, boredom and rage.
afterward that the actor very probably varies his reactions from night
to night, experimenting with new ways to be funny without upstaging his
co-star, and meanwhile keeping Rylance on his toes.)
one else in the
cast is allowed to register except for Joanna Lumley as the patron.
Stepping into a role originally written for a man (and into a
particularly ridiculous red wig) Lumley brings all her inestimable
charm to the play, though the underwritten role gives her only
occasional opportunities to add flashes of wit and intelligence that
any other actress couldn't have done as well.
No, it's Mark Rylance's performance, one of those tell-your-grandchildren-you-were-there-to-see-it theatrical events, along with David Hyde Pierce's, subtler but fully its equal in comic brilliance, and the clever couplets of David Hirson that make La Bête the delight it is.
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Reviews - La Bete - Comedy 2010