Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Theatre review: Run The Beast Down

I suppose if you stage as many shows as the Finborough does, themes will start to emerge in the programming, whether intentionally or not - I'm guessing "the theatre that stages plays with menacingly symbolic foxes" isn't a tagline they'll be putting on the posters, but after Foxfinder and We Know Where You Live there's a sense of déjà vu when the animals turn up again in Run The Beast Down. Director-turned-writer Titas Halder offers up a long monologue for Charlie (Ben Aldridge,) an obnoxious city trader and hipster who, in the opening scene, loses his job and his girlfriend in quick succession. In seven chapters told out of chronological order, he tells us about how things started to fall apart both at work and in his relationship; and once he's stuck at home with nothing to do, his breakdown takes the form of an obsession with the foxes screaming outside at night.

There's some nicely written sequences in Halder's story but the play as a whole stubbornly refuses to hold together. With the story constantly wrong-footing us over whether the foxes are literal, symbolic of feral gangs of kids, of the City's bloodthirsty work culture or of Charlie himself, it runs the risk of us giving up caring which it is.

When a story deliberately sets out to be disorientating it can be truly memorable, but it's a risky strategy and this isn't the first time I've seen an attempt tripping over itself, and end up simply frustrating and confusing. It also, surprisingly from a writer who's already worked in other theatrical areas, doesn't entirely feel as if theatre is the right place for it - with its dark urban odyssey that sees a twisted natural world intrude on London, I got the feeling Halder was trying to write a Neil Gaiman novella. It's even divided into chapters, whose titles Aldridge writes on the floor as the play goes on.

Perhaps Hannah Price agrees about it not feeling entirely theatrical, as her production takes a fairly straightforward performance and throws a lot of bells and whistles at it - most notably a constant electronic soundscape from onstage DJ Chris Bartholomew, a clubland feel reflected in Anthony Lamble's design and Rob Mills' lighting. Does it help? I didn't think so, it does liven up the more tangled passages but I also found it distracting as I couldn't see the thematic link between the story and the way it was being told. Full marks for trying something different but if this is an experiment it's a failed one.

Run The Beast Down by Titas Halder is booking until the 25th of February at the Finborough Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes straight through.

Photo credit: Billy Rickards.

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