It’s not often you get to see a modern play written in verse. La Bête is set in the French court of 1654 but still seems relevant to today’s world of radio shock jocks, partisan talking heads, non-stop blogosphere and the ascendance of reality TV. David Hirson‘s play sets Elomire, leader of the high-brow royal acting troupe against low-brow street performer Valere.
Mark Rylance plays Valere and makes a stunning entrance with a 30 minute monologue which constantly makes you laugh and David Hyde Pierce is his perfect foil as Elomire. Anyone who has watched Frasier will know that Hyde Pierce can do disdain quite like no-one else and he has my favourite speech:
“It shows that what you really do or say
Is less important than the commentary!
Good art – good deeds – become unnecessary:
What’s crucial is portraying them as good!
Hard facts count less than how they’ re understood;
Pretension and the truth become confused !
The honest word is violently abused;
And when the honest word is stripped of sense,
Its form assumes unnatural consequence:
The way a thing is stated holds more weight,
Than what, if anything, one seeks to state!
“I do my play in rhyme,” he says with bluff
As if refined expression were enough
To pardon an impoverishment of thought!
Yet that’s the place to which we’ve now been bought:
A place where men, as far as I can see,
Aspire to saying nothing endlessly!”
La Bête manages to say something with originality, style and verve and most importantly with humour – a combination of the skills of Elomire and Valere.
Joanna Lumley‘s princess wants to bring the two together to create a whole out of their separate parts. La Bête brings together a script and a perfect cast to create a whole that makes you both laugh and think and that is truly great art.