Socrates once said “Beauty is a short-lived tyranny”. Two and a half thousand years later, in 2012, beauty remains difficult, at least according to artistic director Michael Beh.
Beauty is Difficult is a low-budget collaboration with strong production values. Featuring an ensemble cast brought together by the heartBeast Theatre Company, the narrative follows the lives of four eponymous femmes fatales of classical literature: Anna Karenina, Emma Bovary, Hedda Gabler and Phedre.
Mrs Danvers or “Danni” conducts an ethereal and puppeteer-like role throughout each of the individual narratives. The company has employed a charming but minimalist stage set with a focus on visual style. The individual narratives draw heavily from their source material.
In trying to bring together each of the story lines through the medium of a memory play, artistic director Michael Beh has created a mishmash of character development and storytelling that doesn’t sit together quite perfectly an inherent problem when combining epic narratives such as these. It is a credit to the performers just how well they keep this together.
Given the nature of the characters, this performance also has the innate problem of unexplored story lines. But these small issues do not dull one’s overall enjoyment of the show.
The four protagonists have equal stage time but two are of note in their renditions. Karen Dinsdale’s performance of Emma Bovary is an absolute stage stealer. Seemingly all too happy to explore and unlock her inner vixen she has beaming charisma and an imploring stage presence. Anna O’Hara’s performance of Anna Karenina is also commendable. While missing the same intense emotional fervour that characterises Dinsdale’s performance, O’Hara brings an emotional pathos in the performance of her namesake.
The supporting cast also perform admirably, with special note going to the performances of Hamish Nicholson and Jason Ward Kennedy.
Beh has an attractive visual style, setting a melancholic feel and allowing each actress to explore the persona of their character, bringing about some fantastic and genuinely memorable performances. The use of space within the church hall venue, with its thin but deep stage, was done in engaging fashion.
A number of central themes weave through each story. An invisible mirror, which unlocks a vain quality within the characters, is used throughout. Rampant sexual politics is another recurrent motif. Perhaps the most exciting and progressive theme of the production though is the undetermined and improvised feature of the ending. Without giving too much away, it was pleasing to discover the nature of the finale.
Director/designer: Michael Beh
Costume designer: Janice Mandrusiak
Lighting designer: Grant Morrison
Production manager: Gregg Goriss
Stage manager: Joanna Lam
Based on an original idea by Michael Beh drawing on excerpts from “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy, “Hedda Gabbler”by Henrik Ibsen, “Madame Bovary” by Gustave Flaubert, “Phedre” by Jean Racine and “Rebecca” by Daphne Du Maurier.