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Theatre Review A sickness at the heart of things

The B*easts has disquieting things to say about the sexualisation of young children, says MARY CONWAY

The B*easts
Bush Theatre, London

THAT fine actor Monica Dolan both writes and performs this shocking tale of our times in which a pre-pubescent child makes a disturbed yet purposeful bid for attention.

Lila, from an early age, has shown an increasingly insistent obsession with the female body and, in particular, with the power of female breasts. So much so that, aged eight, she demands of her defenceless mother breasts all of her own.

The result is a trip to Brazil for cosmetic surgery and the appearance of double D-cup Jordan-sized breasts on a child so young that all hell is unleashed. Mother Karen is arrested and charged with child abuse.

Dolan plays psychotherapist Tessa, whose job it is to examine and report on Karen’s mental state to the court in a monologue where she shares her findings with the world at large.

Attention-grabbing the play's title may be, but Dolan's hard-hitting piece expertly reveals desperate truths about our pornography-obsessed society and the way in which it conspires in the oversexualisation of children and the endangerment of innocence.

The story, of course, is not true — not quite and not yet. Its cleverness makes it thoroughly believable, however, and gives it its defining acumen. It is a masterpiece of writing — instantly engaging and packed with humorous detours, nimble deviations, thoughts in parentheses, personal revelations and stark comment, while maintaining unerringly the crystal-clear thrust of events.

It really touches on a sickness at the heart of things.

But Dolan’s arguments are so cogent they barely need the imagined construct of the psychiatrist. This is not Tessa but the writer herself who speaks to us in full indignant flow, her anger growing by the minute, undisguised by fabrication or performance.

And because Tessa seems unreal, her personal revelations about her own bitterly ironic relationship with her own breasts appear an unhelpful and slightly clunky device.

Overall, though, both writer and director John Hoggarth should be proud of this contemporary tale that so expertly articulates a growing fear and rivets its audience.

Runs until March 3, box office: bushtheatre.co.uk

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