Beaker’s only friend in the world, his cat, is dead. With nothing left to live for, Beaker decides to end it all, but not before work comes calling. And he doesn’t have just any old job, he disposes of dead bodies for those who drop them at his door. “You stab ‘em, we slab ‘em” his his motto. That is, until a not-quite-dead body arrives in his underground workshop.
For a new company performing their debut show, this is striking.
As Beaker, Matthew Bevan exhibits a nervous bumbling that provides most of the comedy in the piece, correcting himself and stumbling around the stage with an unfaltering lack of confidence. His energy and mannerisms never drop – it is a strong performance that feels at ease with the writing and direction at play. The world-changing arrival into Beaker’s life of Drew sparks entertaining verbal jousting and conflict. Lorna Dale’s portrayal of Drew is uncertain – never quite innocent enough to gain our sympathies, nor brimming with enough menace to chill. With so much relying upon this balance, it is a shame that Dale’s performance is a little one dimensional.
This isn’t helped by James Huxtable’s script. The dialogue zips along, but the development of the two characters leaves something to be desired. Beaker is never given a reason to be doing the work he is doing, and Drew’s character arc is as predictable as it is one dimensional. There is a sense that the audience is supposed to choose their allegiance, but are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Beaker breaks into Hitler-admiring tangents, which feel very out of sync with the rest of his character and reduce his likeability, and therefore Drew never gains our trust. The comic elements of the piece are overt. However this jars slightly with the darkness of the situation, so that the level of threat is never quite as high as it could be.
The stylisation of the piece is excellently held throughout, guided by well placed lighting cues and unnerving sound. The wide, shallow stage is used to its full potential, although the thrust element could have been addressed more directly. It is great to see such a well decorated stage at a festival filled with shows sticking to black box imagination, with a delightful array of props that the cast make great use of. It would be interesting to see this piece performed outside of a fringe setting, as director Michael Saliba quite clearly has a remarkable hold on both the design and performative aspects of the show.
Of course, there is only so much that can be done in 45 minutes, and Beaker’s Place squeezes in an impressive amount. For a new company performing their debut show, this is striking. To see Beaker’s Place reworked for a longer running time and in a different space, would work wonders. But in the meantime, this is a sturdy foundation, and a step up from the family fodder visitors to the fest otherwise find themselves facing at 12:25pm.