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Review: BEAT THE DEVIL, Bridge Theatre

Pitched as a Covid-themed monologue, David Hare's latest is actually a play of two halves

Review: BEAT THE DEVIL, Bridge Theatre Review: BEAT THE DEVIL, Bridge Theatre

David Hare is well known for his biting commentary on public institutions. The Church of England, the legal system: none have escaped his observation unscathed, and with Beat the Devil, the Conservative Government is the target of choice.

Pitched as a Covid-themed monologue, Beat the Devil (directed by Nicholas Hytner) is actually a play of two halves: a gruesome account of Hare's own experience with Coronavirus, and a scathing, rage-fuelled rant about the failings of Boris and his cabinet of cronies. Observing Ralph Fiennes when performing the latter is unexpectedly humorous and cathartic in some ways; the audience is roaring with laughter, united in our horror at the Government's handling of the pandemic.

Hare's rampant rage is felt acutely as a result of Fiennes's fired-up performance, and although not particularly sophisticated in its language, one can't help but relate. Shout out to sound designer Gareth Fry, whose subtle choices punctuate the mood really effectively.

The biographical retelling of Hare's Covid-19 experience, on the other hand, is jarring and upsetting - affecting in the kind of way that good writing should be. But being walked through a play-by-play of developing symptoms - symptoms that we are all since familiar with (hopefully not first-hand) - makes the material feel disconnected to the 'now', and wanting in relevance.

With an actual run time of only 45 minutes, the pacing works well, and Fiennes is a strong storyteller. Even sitting amidst a widely dispersed audience of 250, fully masked, and surrounded by sad spaces of absent seating, Beat the Devil succeeds in building a sense of connection to Hare as a character, and the audience to each other. This is complemented keenly at the end with the much-missed sound of unified applause reverberating around the Bridge Theatre.

But, as much as we all enjoy a good tirade, perhaps a more incisive commentary on the political implications of Covid-19 would have been more thought-provoking subject matter.

Beat the Devil is part of a repertoire of the Bridge Theatre's 12 one-person plays during September and October. You can purchase tickets here

Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

From This Author - Caroline Cronin

Caroline has over seven years' experience as a theatre journalist, spanning three different publications. Now an established member of the BroadwayWorld team, Caroline specialises in musical theatre... (read more about this author)

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