When it comes to heavy subject matters, Cancer is definitely up there at the top of the list, so it was with great pleasure and surprise that Beetles From the West wasn’t all doom and gloom. Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of drama and some very touching raw moments during the intense hour-long performance, but there were also moments of light comic touches in the relationship between Boyd and Jenny.
Having emerged from the dark hot confines of The Hope Theatre on a summery Saturday evening, I felt as though I had witnessed something quite special. New playwright James Hartnell tackles the themes of masculinity and the stigma attached to men’s health head on, and there is little pause for reflection during continuous dynamic dialogue on stage.
The play is set in a bland, characterless hospital waiting room where Boyd (Ryan Penny) and his girlfriend Jenny (Shian Denovan) wait to here Boyd’s father’s test results from Henry, the on duty doctor, following his father’s collapse. Breaking up the monotony of the wait are a series of surreal dramatic monologues for each of the three characters, inserted into the linear narrative. They reveal poignant, fleshed out backstory, as characters re-live striking memories. These are never more memorable than with the role of Henry, which could easily have been just a stock doctor character whose only purpose is to the story, but here he is a fully developed character with his own issues and woes, and his moments alone on stage allow the relationship between Boyd and Jenny to breathe.
Overall, the play feels fresh and well-researched, and it’s great to see a little known subject told in such a unique manner. If the only aim of the play was to highlight the need for men to seek medical attention before it’s too late, for illnesses that may carry a certain stigma, such as prostate cancer, then I would say it worked. But the play is much more than that, and although the run is now ended, it definitely deserves another, as it’s a story that needs to and should be told.
Next up at the The Hope Theatre is Steel Magnolias playing until 3 September. Tickets can be booked here: “I’m going to get my colours done. I’m going to find out if I’m a summer or spring or fall or winter. Why don’t you have it done, Shelby? You’re so fashion conscious.”