Boyd (Ryan Penny) is a thoroughly dislikeable young character in Beetles From The West, and not so dislikeable he paradoxically becomes likeable, but rather one with no redeeming features. His is also a rather exaggerated character, too. Set in a hospital waiting room, he paces the floor like I’ve never seen anyone do in an actual hospital waiting room: if people would like to pace, they will pace in the corridors, or take a walk outside if it is not raining – they do not treat the waiting room like a prison cell.
It surprised me greatly that Boyd stayed in the waiting room for as long as he did: clearly unable to handle his emotions with a critical incident in his immediate family, it is almost a miracle that he didn’t storm off in a huff. He is an impenetrable and contradictory character, one moment writing off doctors as laws unto themselves, and in another almost worshipping them as people capable of fixing any physical ailment under the sun.
But it becomes clear much of the play, both in terms of the script and the production, has been designed to maximise dramatic effect. There is more than one reference to the American animated comedy television series Family Guy, name-checked in the first few minutes then later alluded to in a board game Boyd plays with girlfriend Jenny (Shian Denovan), which ends suspiciously similarly to the outcome of a chess game between Brian and Stewie of Family Guy in Season 4, Episode 29. And there’s something distinctly un-British about Boyd loudly making demands of hospital doctor Henry (Chris Machari), broadly in the style of Donald Trump.
Boyd’s relentless and discourteous questioning and interrupting means it takes longer for him to find out what information he wants to know than if he had paused to listen properly in the first place. It repeatedly gave out the feeling that this was a stalling tactic, a padding out of the narrative to make the running time stretch a little longer. What humour there is in this show rarely amused me; one particularly ill-judged quip that disparaged homosexual people came across as bizarre and unnecessary.
Elsewhere, the play tries so hard not to be patronising towards NHS patients that it ends up doing exactly that, like a person under the influence of alcohol who over-enunciates their words, such that their inebriated state is all the more vivid. The point is quite sufficiently made, however: the National Health Service cannot fully satisfy each and every healthcare need.
I never did get to the bottom of why this play has been given its title. There are repeated references to beetles, in the form of an analogy which took me a while to get my head around, but I still have no idea why the said beetles are ‘from the west’, or if indeed they did come from the west, or even what precisely is meant by ‘the west’. The play does not exactly have a global outlook, so ‘The West’ could hardly mean what The Economist or The New Statesman means by it. Further, the play meanders too much, providing flashback after flashback to the past. And yes, there’s a certain animated series (ahem) that likes to do flashbacks, though they do so sparingly and briefly – they are pithy and punchy. Most of the ones in this production, sorry to say, are too long and wholly unmemorable. They felt like those pleasant but extraneous backstories on programmes like The X-Factor, when all one really wants to know is whether a given contestant can sing.
At least the script is not laden with barrels upon barrels of expletives. As for the play’s conclusion, it came rather suddenly, and though the rather joyous and forward-looking epilogue was welcome, it also jarred with the sense of unease and discomfort that prevailed throughout the rest of the proceedings. I did, to be fair, found myself genuinely wanting to know how this story would play out. The cast do very well with what they are given in this a bold and brash treatment of some very pertinent issues relating to personal health and wellbeing.
Review by Chris Omaweng
How do you cope when everything you’ve known starts falling away?
Boyd grew up with his father by his side, a constant lovable force of energy that sheltered him and kept him on the right path.
When his father is taken ill and things change, Boyd must face a new world, one that’s full of doubts and uncertainty, alone. We see Boyd and his girlfriend, Jenny waiting in the hospital as every second becomes crucial and darkness grips them. On their journey they do all they can to keep their hope going, keep their faith strong and their future bright. We join them on their journey into what it feels like when the world we have known starts to crumble around us, tackling men’s health and a difficult Doctor along the way.
Beetles from the West looks at men’s’ health and the stigma associated with it, what happens to those indirectly affected by those that don’t speak out and the devastating effect of our pride getting in between those first symptoms and calling a doctor. First performed at the Lion and Unicorn in 2016, Falling Pennies is proud to present the next stage of this unique, touching original piece of writing.
Beetles From The West
writer JAMES HARTNELL / director PHIL CROFT
5 – 23 July 2016
Tues – Sat. No shows Sun & Mon.