The Beck

Tue 8th – Sat 12th March 2016

reviews

Clare Cavenagh

at 21:56 on 8th Mar 2016

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The Beck is the gothic, claustrophobic story of a family divided by their attitudes to the past and to their own history. While some characters wish to preserve their traditions and cling to the crumbling edifice of their once-great home, others want to cut ties, to make pragmatic decisions and embrace the future. The introduction of a stranger into this fraught group brings some problems to a head, and provides fresh perspectives on many of the problems within the unit. Although short, The Beck packs a hell of a lot into its hour, and will have you mulling it over long after you have left the Playroom.

The family living inside the house are a grand lot now fallen on hard times, and the old pile reflects this. The Playroom became the kitchen, dressed up with shelves along both adjoining walls piled with domestic objects of all kinds. These shelves sloped in as they reached the ceiling, giving the whole thing an unsettling, surreal eloquence. The shelves were tumbling down, and leaning in, crumbling and closing on the occupants just like the house as a whole.

The question of what to do with this impractical history is debated by siblings Violet (Hannah Machover) and Charlie (Benedict Flett). Violet, in spite of the humbleness in which she now lives, her frequent clashes with her teenage daughter, and her recent separation from her husband, is incredibly proud of what the family and the house once were, and also deeply aware that nowadays the kind of history they have, their connection to the place, is a rare luxury. As such, she is determined to cling onto the crumbling edifice of the place, eroded both physically, and metaphorically. Hannah Machover creates a deeply complex character in Violet - someone fragile and barely coping with the situation, but who nevertheless struggles on, the self-appointed matriarch of the family. Charlie however is more of a pragmatist. He believes that the upkeep of the house is beyond them, and that tradition and family history must necessarily give way to practicalities.

This has led him to bring an outsider into the house - a friend named Patrick (Joe Pieri). Patrick is a prospective buyer of the house, and Pieri's unnerving habit of standing upright, chin in the air, and leaving little pauses between questions and his stilted, too-level responses, makes sure that the audience smells a rat from the very beginning. Patrick fosters special relationships with the unstable Cecelia, played by Martha Murphy with an intensity which often made watching feel uncomfortably intrusive. Cecelia is an artist who paints the suspicious number of dead birds which plague the estate, and who has discovered that she is unable to leave. Patrick also has a brief, and very odd, heart-to-heart with the teenage Beth, played by Daisy Jones. Beth is deeply unhappy in the house, hates her boarding school, and misses her life in London. She feels suffocated and cut off, a situation which isn't helped by her mother's insistence on her belonging there: during an argument about attending church, Violet angrily tells Beth that she was baptised in the local church, and will in all probability be buried there too.

The exchange between Patrick and Beth is focused primarily on their shared obsession with sadness. Although the theme is the same, their respective responses to it are not. Beth legitimately feels awful, as do her family, and is trapped by her feelings and the circumstances which exacerbate them. Patrick however reveals an unnerving tendency to fetishize female sadness. He's intrigued by the aesthetics of Beth's feelings and behaviour, and in his professional life as a music producer is in the process of creating a performer whose onstage persona matches up to his fantasy of the tragic heroine. This musician, Mariana (Amber Reeves Pigott), pops up between scenes and clambers onto the kitchen table, singing her wallowing, depressive ballads in low, red light. Her appearances highlight the clash of the real sadness at the heart of the family, and Patrick's sanitized, titivating version - she looks woefully jarring and out of place in the shabby domesticity of the kitchen.

With ingenious set design, wonderful, complex acting and a succinct scrip which has been distilled down to an economical burst of questions and conflicts, The Beck is an absorbing, troubling and intriguing show. Go along with a friend and stop off for a drink on the way home - there'll be plenty to talk and think about.

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