Beak Street

Greg Freeman
Tabard Theatre
(2010)

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Set in the world of Soho gangs and gamblers this is a slight tale of duplicity and revenge but it is given a special twist because all the characters are cats, each with their own territory by which they are mainly known. No 'naming of cats' in this show though you do get a night-club scene with a number for Alice Tranfield's Pretty Pretty.

Scots cat Beak (David Haydn), from Beak Street of course, is night club owner, bookie and fight promoter with sidekick Hench (David Gwyn). His rival, on the streets and for Pretty Pretty, is Greek (Mark Brennan). When James Sygrove's sleazy shifty Weasel (all ear-washing cat, the name is descriptive) discovers a pugilist mouse who looks soporific but packs a powerful punch Beak sets up a fight and thinks he's going to make a killing on the bets - but things go wrong. Beak is ruined.

What happened to the mouse? Who did it, who betrayed him? Beak is determined to find out and track them down. It's a rather two dimensional gang story that gives little opportunity for more than two dimensional playing. Despite the continual reminders that these are cats it doesn't really exploit that idea - they behave like humans.

There are a couple of female felines as a kind of chorus accompanying Beak with their comments in rhyming doggerel (if you can say that of cats), replete with hisses and extended claws, but the feline characterisation varies from repeated gesture to merely fur tippets and costume decoration and a regular reminder that there's no loyalty among cats.

It starts imaginatively with balled up bodies rolling onto the stage and uncurling into a spitting confrontation and there is some shadow work that is surprisingly effective given the space in which it has to be mounted. Street sounds and headlights give a sense of the street and the boxing match is nicely staged but there is far too much unnecessary twitching of curtains where lighting alone would have been sufficient to indicate a new location.

Despite the violence inherent in the plot, this is really is a lightweight piece with no pretensions that is almost sending itself up. Those rhymed passages need some work to make them either really clever or so bad they become hilarious - at the moment they don't hit either - and there is the same dichotomy to the whole script: it keeps reminding us how selfish and nasty these cats are and yet we are supposed to find them engaging. It's pleasant enough as entertainment but it lacks satirical edge and its one number made me feel a few more songs and some dance would be very welcome.

Until 29th May 2010

Reviewer: Howard Loxton