Review: Run the Beast Down (Finborough Theatre)
Titas Halder’s monologue about the pressures of modern life is resolutely untheatrical
There's something of Diary of a Madman to Run the Beast Down. You sense it right from the start. Within seconds, slick cityboy Charlie has lost his job and his girlfriend and, in an unsympathetic, anomic city like this one, his story can only go one of two ways – rebirth or, more likely, meltdown.
The trouble with Titas Halder's monologue is that you've heard it all before: the neighbours like strangers, the cityboy wankers, the stray kids on estates and the dead cats on doorsteps. He gives us a graphic novel version of London, imposing and unfriendly; a dog-eat-dog, cut-and-thrust city with no such thing as society. Litter spills onto the pavement. No-one cleans up. Foxes howl through the night.
That sound keeps Charlie up. Ben Alridge cocks his head back and emits this shrill, lingering screech. It ripples through his brain and takes root, and, as his mental state disintegrates, it comes to stand for everything that's wrong with the world. He vows to track down its source – be it animal or human.
A twentysomething with an axe to grind, Charlie's entitled and resentful. He thinks back to cock-of-the-walk colleagues, splashing cash on nights out, and sneers down at his ex-council estate neighbours. Halder's is a city split between plum vowels and dropped consonants. It's stuffed with dead animals – meat products and taxidermy that mark human hubris. Something's not right with the place, something's sick. Halder catches the scent of the rot really well.
The symbolism makes more sense. Foxes invade the human space. They're scavengers. Vermin. They've snuck into plays before – outsiders in Dawn King's Foxfinder, refugees in Stef Smith's Human Animals. Here, they stand for some kind of scourge, but which? The ‘feral' gangkids in the streets at night, staring Charlie down? Or the rogue trader under investigation at his firm? Maybe even Charlie himself?
Frankly, Halder's narrative isn't entirely clear. If he seeks to disorientate, his trippy tale trips itself up; so spinny it careers out of control. Charlie's on some sort of trail, but it's not entirely clear what or who he's tracking, or whether this humanoid fox hallucination has a basis in reality or not?
The result is rather resolutely untheatrical – less a monologue than a straight-up short story. Halder even divides it into chapters, the titles of which Aldridge chalks on the floor. He narrates to no-one in particular, and there's no real reason for us to encounter Charlie face-to-face. There's not a lot to him. His voice is blandly narratorial, and there's nothing distinct in his language or his lens on the world.
Sensing this, director Hannah Price throws a lot of theatre at the play. Chris Barthomolew's live DJ set throbs and thrums with the city's pulse, and Rob Mills's soft, colourful fluorescents turn Anthony Lamble's simple stage into a multifaceted landscape. Even so, it stays on one tone, and a predictable one at that, and over a long 90 minutes, Run the Beast Down wears itself out.
Run the Beast Down runs at the Finborough until 25 February.