Review – La Bête, Comedy Theatre

Thursday 8 July 2010

“The theatrical event of the year” is a phrase that’s rather bandied about willy-nilly these days.

Benedict Nightingale’s quote still lurks mockingly on the publicity for Paint Never Dries. Punters might be forgiven for thinking that it signalled a volte-face in Nightingale’s opinion after his less than flattering 2 star review. It didn’t. The quote actually originates from something he wrote long before he saw it.

But the Whingers can truthfully say that for them La Bête really does fall into the category of one of their most eagerly anticipated theatrical excursions of the year, despite it being written in verse.

Yes verse! You would think that in a post-Fram, post-Misanthrope world, people would have stopped putting on verse plays and moreover that the Whingers would have stopped going to them.

Have their heads been turned by dipping their poetic toes into the Clerihewcular cosmos?

But to more important matters. This year the Whingers have been ticking off Frasier alumni* like there’s no tomorrow – Kelsey Grammer, Bebe Neuwirth and Anthony LaPaglia all fell in New York and just the night before the Whingers had drawn a satisfying HB pencil line through Mercedes Ruehl’s name in their I-SPY THE CAST OF FRASIER book during Prisoner of Second Rate at the Vaudeville (Ruehl played KACL station manager Kate Costas in five episodes, in case you are wondering).

But David Hyde Pierce (Frasier‘s brother Niles but don’t mention that when you’re interviewing him) has been stubbornly evasive. An attempt to see him in Kander & Ebb’s Curtains a couple of years ago was thwarted when the Broadway stage hands went on strike the very day the Whingers arrived in New York.

So, yes, anyway, Hyde Pierce was tantalising enough, never mind the casting of  National Treasure (and Andrew’s Neighbour, as he likes to tell anyone who’ll listen) Dame Joanna Lumley PLUS everyone’s theatrical homme du jour Mark Rylance, fresh from his success in Jerusalem.

AND it’s all marshalled by that directorial charmer Matthew Warchus** whose “I Directed Boeing Boeingcard gets him out of jail free every time he does something like Lord Of The Rings – The Musical! or the inexplicably successful God Of Carnage which was still cluttering up The Broadway last time we were there.

AND it’s produced by Sonia Friedman which means we are unlikely to get ejected from the aftershow party should we get rumbled by security.

Anyway, enough provenance. Let’s talk about La Bête.

Elomire (Hyde Pierce) is a  dramatist to the court of a Princess (Lumley) who has tired of his high-brow offerings, her artistic head turned by the egotistical and low-brow street clown Valere (Rylance). A literary stand-off ensues and the Whingers had a ball. That’s all that needs saying.

We were very, very amused indeed. It kicks off with the maid Dorine (Greta Lee, very good) peering through a scrim of words on a fetching festive tableau which is suddenly replaced by three walls of towering bookcases (Mark Thompson, designer) in which the po-faced Elomire and his hunchback actor friend Bejart (Stephen Ouimette, also very good; from now on please take “also very good” as read) discuss the threat to their troupe of the vulgar Valere.

Cue Rylance whose first appearance as the dribbling, spitting***, melon eating, flatulent, swaggering, self-regarding, verbose, easily side-tracked Valare sweeps him effortlessly through the famous 20 minute monologue, carrying the audience along with him as he goes. When Rylance is on fire like this his abduction of the show is assured from the outset.

David Hyde Pierce holds his own against this force of nature (like his – shhh – TV brother Kelsey Grammer does with Douglas Hodge in La Cage Aux Folles) in a role which is – by necessity – written altogether less showily. But even during Rylance’s tour de force monologue, Hyde Pierce keeps acting and reacting without every detracting.

As the plot develops, the stakes are raised as Elomire decides that he would rather resign than be forced to work with Valere, even if that means losing his loyal troupe of actors. Who will triumph? The intellectual or the crass showman?

You’ll have to go and see it.

All this and Joanna Lumley giving a non-lisping Violet Elizabeth Bott in a frightful red wig too!

All you need to know is that David Hirson‘s verse play – bursting with language –  is very, very funny indeed and the evening (1h45 with no interval if you please!) flies by. The Whingers would go and see it again in a flash.

And lastly – at the risk of being disloyal – a word for the wigs. They’re very good (Mark Rylance’s roots are genius). They are so good in fact the Whingers scoured their programmes looking for Richard Mawbey’s name. Rather shockingly they’re actually by someone called Campbell Young. Turns out he did Lord of the Rings – The Musical.


* Won’t someone please bring Harriet Harris over again? We tried to see her in Thoroughly Modern Millie on Broadway but had to content ourselves with her understudy. Here she is as Frasier’s agent Bebe (also featuring Kristin Chenoweth!).

** Once we can pronounce his name with confidence we shall grace Mr Warchus with a clerihew. Not before.

*** Phil was reminded of Les Patterson. Where did Rylance get those teeth? Has he reached such dizzying heights that he can make his own teeth look false? Or are they? Dental acting – that’s a first for us.

And yes, we’ve seen John Mahoney (Frasier’s dad) on stage. And Phil even saw him with Harriet Harris. And we once saw Edward Hibbert (Gil Chesterton) taking tea with Siân Phillips and Eileen Atkins outside the National Theatre. True story.

Stop Press

The teeth are false!

Stop the presses again!

Look who we ran into!

Edward Hibbert AKA Frasier's Gil Chesterton

With Edward Hibbert AKA Frasier's Gil Chesterton


Rating score 5-5 our cups overfloweth


35 Responses to “Review – La Bête, Comedy Theatre”

  1. David Says:

    If I had had anything to do with the side-splittingly unfunny Boing Boing I would keep quiet about it. But then my partner, me, and the poor American lady with the broken leg next to us were the only people in the theatre not on the floor weeping with laughter – so maybe it’s us.

    • Rae Coates Says:

      Just a quick question,who was in Boeing Boeing when you saw it?Surely not the original cast cos,if it was, then it must have been you—–

  2. Anna Lowman Says:

    For a play that certainly has its flaws (even the sublime DHP has to fight to give Elomire a fair chance against Valere and *that* speech means it’s inevitably top-heavy) – you have to say it must hold a certain special appeal to excuse the fact that I’ve now seen it twice in two days…. and as you say, that’s probably simply that it is very, very funny.

  3. garethjames Says:

    While you was ligging and louching, I was (somewhat spookily, I think) at ‘Curtains’ at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, the show wot DHP won his Tony for!

  4. Ian Shuttleworth Says:

    **Light the torches
    For Matthew Warchus.

  5. Roo Says:

    It has divided the critics. 2 stars from Charles Spencer in the Telegraph to 5 stars from Libby Purves in The Times.

  6. JohnnyFox Says:

    The Devil hath no sharper barbs with which to fork us
    Than getting the pronunciation right for Matthew Warchus?

  7. Don’t know why, but this production just doesn’t appeal to me. Probably the verse. Or maybe DHP, as we saw Curtains in NY and didn’t get it at all.

  8. Mark Says:

    5 glasses of wine is a lot of booze
    To toast the success of Matthew Warchus??

  9. mym Says:

    Rylance was, as usual, fascinating and amazing to watch. Hyde-Pierce was good. Lumley was… well, herself, the part was pretty crap though.

    The play itself is a real turkey, it goes nowhere and says nothing that isn’t up-itself or platitudinous (or both), without Rylance in it I would have walked out after an hour (as in fact several people did, the night I saw it) and saved myself the sheer tedium of the last half.

  10. Now I can’t wait to see this show on Broadway, thank you very much.

    You can catch Harriet Harris right now as Mrs. Lovett in “Sweeney Todd” in Massachusetts. Even Ben Brantley is raving about her performance in it. (She’s one of my stage favorites – I’ve seen her in everything from “Glass Menagerie” to “Thorougly Modern Millie,” and she’s a delight in person, too.)

  11. Roger Risborough Says:

    Loved it. Yes, you can quibble about it being a triumph of performance over substance, but if the main criterion is having a good time, then I had one. A great one – because it is VERY funny. Others have mentioned Les Patterson (I was in A10, so I’m still picking melon out of my hair) but you’ve got to throw in echoes of Ernie Wise, Eric Morecambe and Blackadder too. And Mark Rylance’s EXTRAORDINARY performance managed to find room for a bit of Bill Nighy in amongst the extremes of America and France. Of course it’s uneven after the blistering beginning, but the last half hour gives you a chance to stop giggling, catch your breathe and work out when you’re free to see it again.

  12. Lord Andrew Lloyds Slipper Sniffer Says:

    La Bete is unique. Of course the dinosaurs of the press don’t get it: it attacks them and mocks their pretentiousness. Their only weapon therefore is to attempt to dismiss it as ‘smug’ or ‘dramatically inert’. It happened in 1991, and history is repeating itself.

  13. Rae Coates Says:

    Did Mr Warchus actualy “direct” Boeing Boeing,or was it the brilliance of the cast and their imput that made it the success that it was.Depends on how you like or what you call “direction” realy

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  15. Gareth James Says:

    And here’s me, who’s spent months agonising over where to get my root canal work done, and along comes a dentist just 3000 miles away. I’m so lucky….

  16. Gareth James Says:

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  17. “Curtains” is completely sold out. No tickets available unless you are shagging one of the cast. *cough*

    I’ve seen it. *cough*

  18. Phil Ball Says:

    The cast were very good,Mr Rylance outstanding and DHP EQUALLY SO.It is a mistake not to have an interval,the opening and ending were visually superb,but it does fall into a ponderous lull.

  19. Eric Says:

    I went to see La Bete last night and could not wait to write a review….in fact my first ever. Never felt the need to. I either liked a show or play or I did not. I didn’t ever feel the need to share that…..until NOW
    What utter SHIT

    • Roger Risborough Says:

      Eric – please help me.
      I think I understand the principles of the Hadron Collider. I can just about understand the Coalition, but I can’t understand why you would feel so violent towards this play? If you don’t like La Bete, what do you like?

  20. Denis Says:

    Saw this and was blown away by Mark Rylance. The play is worth seeing for his 20 minute monolgue alone. And I mean that. It really is the only reason to see it. The play itself has nothing of interest to say. And the laughs evaporate as the play progresses. Poor DHP has nothing to do but mug in response to Rylance’s character and La Lumley turns up and plays testy head girl. I love them all but this is a seriously dull evening enlivened by one gold standard performance of one good role in a very poor play.

  21. Simon Harris Says:

    Saw this yesterday and I agree that the play is not the brilliant work of art that the playwright clearly thinks he is writing but Mark Rylance is so strong that I would go and see him in any old rubbish just so that I could be in the same room as him. Until Rylance I always thought that Derek Jacobi was the finest actor I had seen live (especially as Cyrano de Bergerac) but I am afraid that Rylance in the last year had performed in Endgame, Jerusalem and La Bete and his acting has been sublime in all. To be frank I didnt even notice any other actors on stage…..

  22. […] Box Theater, New York) By webcowgirl I was a little late getting to see La Bete – the West End Whingers’ rave was well over a month old before I got a call from a friend saying, “Take me to see something […]

  23. Walter Cairns Says:

    If a half-hour monologue of utter drivel by a character competing for the Irritating Voice of the Year award, punctuated by the most predictable pay-off lines and the pointless, but now-compulsory, lavatorial vulgarity appeals to you, definitely go and see it. Otherwise you may be tempted to leave after a few minutes on the basis that this is the ultimate turkey.

  24. PAT Says:


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