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Review: Beast in the Room at Theatreworks

Review by Naomi Cardwell

Marooned in a diamond-shaped space on the sparsely lit stage, April Albert and her 16-year-old son Jule Boyle stand together amidst piles of wooden pallets and potted plants. As they set to shuffling these elements around the stage and attempting to build something together, the mother and son communicate in three languages: English, German, and Minecraft. 

Beast In the Room runs at a whip-tight forty minutes, fragmented into one part conversation, another part devised performance, and a final part multimedia art installation. Its central theme is the daunting task of rebuilding after trauma: specifically, loss. 

Projections by Matto Lucas depict a first-person adventure in Minecraft, a fight with the final “boss”, the Ender Dragon. Beautiful lighting by Sidney Younger laps over the stage, with words and sentence fragments approaching and receding at the feet of the performers. As the scene plays overhead, Boyle poetically describes the game’s capacity for growth and building, and there’s something deeply stirring about Albert’s teenaged son reaching out to his mum in the language in which he is most fluent. Albert, a seasoned Melbourne academic and theatre practitioner, mediates the fourth wall deftly, with her performance capably switching register between direct addresses to the audience about the development of this work, and fully immersed storytelling to her son. 

As she stands behind a lectern to deliver a hauntingly constrained reading of a passage from Maria Tumarkin’s remarkable Traumascapes, Jude nods, returning a poignant analogy, relating the two pre-sets available for Minecraft players: Survival Mode or Creative Mode. This is an artistic exchange, with each interlocutor turning out the best of their particular vocabulary, and it’s a beautiful and deeply moving piece of dialogue.

The performance unfolds haltingly, moving as if to avoid pain. The pair bicker exclusively in German. Albert dances, almost vaudevillian, to delay carrying on with the central story. She tries on a more brisk, business-like persona. Anecdotes bubble over and distractions abound. A meditation on climate change develops, but fails to fully take root over the other, more developed and gut-wrenching storyline. A teenage Virgil to Albert’s skittish Dante, Boyle is patient, exasperated, steadfast, and occasionally lost for words. At times, he reads his lines from a script, but he’s unflinching in doing so. His character’s determination to find a way through is palpable - and achingly, his efforts finally resolve into a simple, tightly held hug and an affirming nod for his mum at the end.

The performance is unpolished, but it’s beautiful enough to leave me with a genuine catch in my throat. Its multilingual properties give it a refractive quality, like an opal full of new colour and inflection to discover. I have the sense that everybody attending saw their own version of this play, but maybe it’s simpler than that. As I leave, a family who have attended together pause on the way out, and their gangly teenager pulls his own mum into his arms for an awkward hug before looking away sheepishly. Beast in the Room is an elemental play, profound, moving and perfectly imperfect: the work of two deeply artistic souls reaching out in the darkness, searching for connection.

Image Supplied


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