Simon Phillips on directing The Beast of a play

Opening recently in Sydney, Eddie Perfect’s The Beast has been directed by Simon Phillips, and will soon head to Melbourne and Brisbane. While the production was still in the rehearsal room, Phillips spoke to me about the content of the play, his working relationship with Perfect, and what makes for a good evening in the theatre.

Heidi Arena, Rohan Nichol and Eddie Perfect in The Beast. Image by Ken Nakanishi
Heidi Arena, Rohan Nichol and Eddie Perfect in The Beast. Image by Ken Nakanishi

Previously collaborating with Perfect on Shane Warne: the Musical, joining the creative team of The Beast was an easy decision for Phillips. Having worked with Perfect on his original material before, Phillips says that the two “get each other”, and that their creative relationship is still fresh and able to adapt to new interpretations and ideas.

“I’m a huge fan of Eddie and of Eddie’s writing and all his talents, and that’s an extremely good start. I think we kind of understand the essence of where his comedy is heading and the way it pushes satirical observation to absurd extremes, which I find to be a very appealing and very theatrical thing.”

“I think it’s one of the funniest scripts I’ve come across – I saw the original production at the Melbourne Theatre Company and I thought it was one of the most fantastic nights in the theatre that I’d had in such a long time. Just the sheer bravery of what Eddie was pitching for, the outrageous and total theatricality of it, the ‘take no prisoners’ idea of what a night in the theatre could be… [The audience] get so energised by what’s coming off the show from the requirements of the script. I was really keen to have a go at [The Beast] when he wanted to start working on it again.”

Regarding the “absurd extremes” Phillips mentioned within the script, he says the play is not necessarily concerned with teaching its audience about morality, but explores the ideas of killing your guilt by trying to disguise bad behaviour as something else. We discussed the example of patting ourselves on the back for slaughtering and eating free range animals rather than factory farmed animals, with Phillips commenting that the play concerns itself with the idea of human pretension, rather than focusing on upholding moral beliefs and actions.

“[The play] is not really dreaming to be ethical – the play itself is not judging – if you’re going to eat meat, don’t dress it up as anything else. Be honest about it. So what it is interested in is the pretensions that people put around things and how they make themselves feel better about the idea of eating meat by congratulating themselves about the way in which they eat it.”

Christie Whelan Browne and Toby Truslove in The Beast. Image by Ken Nakanishi
Christie Whelan Browne and Toby Truslove in The Beast. Image by Ken Nakanishi

“When the characters all […] sit and eat a carrot, they say, ‘wow, these taste…’ and they really experience the eating of a carrot. It’s a comic moment, but the point is that the carrot itself is not the problem. The organic-ness of the carrot is not the problem, it’s what people put on it, what we impose on something that is in and of itself, actually great. We almost sully it, we sully the simple, good things by loading them with our own ego.”

When I asked Phillips what he wanted audiences to feel while watching The Beast, his reply followed a similar principle. He admitted that he was “pretty shallow” when it came to teaching a lesson through the script of The Beast. Rather than trying to educate his audience or create a moment of self-realisation, he preferred to spend his time during rehearsals creating a fast-paced world “where mayhem reins supreme”.

“I think the point of any social satire is to ask people to see themselves or elements of themselves in some of the characters that are possibly more extremely written for the purposes of comedy. I do think that’s at the heart of it, but I’m a great believer in people going to the theatre and having a viscerally fantastic time. The theatre can change your life in many different ways, and sometimes it changes your life by the story that is being told having an element of lesson or advice to it, but other times it changes your life just by being a rollickingly good ride. That is what I think this will be.”

The Beast concludes Sydney performances at the Sydney Opera House on 21 August.

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Maddi Ostapiw

Maddi is a performer who has been too scared to stand in the spotlight for the last few years, so she channels her need for love and appreciation into writing about the theatre instead. An energetic consumer of musical theatre, she is currently earning a degree in journalism and teaches voice in her small hometown. Maddi is normally covered in cat fur, has an opinion on everything, and in the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda, is not throwing away her shot.

Maddi Ostapiw

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