I saw David Hirson’s Moliere-inspired comedy La Bête recently. Written entirely in iambic pentameter, the play explores the struggle between high art and popular entertainment, artistic integrity, and (so we are told) France.
With an extraordinary performance by Mark Rylance as Valere – presented as an American version of Jack Sparrow – and David Hyde Pearce as the highbrow Elomire, the play sees the two characters battle for the affection of the Royal theatre troupe, and the Princess (Joanna Lumley). The show has opened to mixed reviews, but continues to fill theatres every night, and is worth seeing alone for Valere’s mind-spinning capacity to soliloquise for the best part of an hour (and consequently Rylance’s ability to meet that challenge). Arguably, David Hyde Pearce is playing nothing more than a 17th Century Niles, and Joanna Lumley’s character could have been played by anyone, but – as the play asks – if you let go of the rules that define what the rules should and should not be, and enjoy the comic rhyming verse, and the novelty of seeing three of today’s best stage performers in the flesh, it is easy enough to see why “La Bête, hailed as this season’s absolute must-see, with a once-in-a-lifetime cast giving performances to die for”
La Bete is at London’s Comedy Theatre until the 4th September, and at the Music Box Theatre on Broadway from 23rd September-13 February 2011.