Poor Beck

Joanna Laurens
Royal Shakespeare Company at the Soho Theatre
(2005)

Greg Hicks and Sian Brooke. Photo by Ellie Kurtzz

Joanna Laurens is a young writer who specialises in intense reworkings of Greek myths. In keeping with its RSC sister-play, Midwinter, Poor Beck is a moving post-apocalyptic tale of tragic love.

The original tale, as related by Ovid in his Metamorphoses was of Myrrha, the daughter of a King of Cyprus whose love for her father led to an incestuous relationship in which the poor man was an unwitting victim. The pair became the parents of the legendary Adonis and, as memorial and punishment, Myrrha was turned into a myrrh tree.

Director Daniel Fish benefits from a four-strong cast drawn from the tragedies at the Albery, so th, in one light, this could be seen as that unusual drama Macbeth and Juliet as Greg Hicks' Cinyras and Sîan Brooke's Myrrha come together.

The cast is universally superb in this story of a people condemned to live below ground after a nuclear explosion has contaminated the surface. Such a claustrophobic, subterranean existence inevitably puts strains on relationships and throws people together.

Cinyras was blinded as he looked back at the destruction of his country and he is now keen to lead the people back to the surface and the reclamation of their land. His wife, Louise Bangay's Cenchreis, is more interested in love - or possibly just lust.

This appears in the form of foreign peddler Poor Beck, played by Louis Hilyer. In the only wrong note, his irritating Mediterranean accent balances her West Indian patois inexplicably delivered with Home Counties Received Pronunciation.

The play rests on all four characters' need for hope and love and what this ultimately costs, both for themselves and the people. Cenchreis will sacrifice her family for the eponymous peddler, while he will lie to win her. The lie that he must tell is about the existence of normality on the surface to support Cinyras' thesis and thus send the gullible people back up there to horrible deaths.

Saddest of all, beautiful, young Myrrha has eyes for only one, blind man and ultimately it is her love that sparks the tragedy.

Fish's staging is clever with minimal lighting from unusual sources and a stage undermined by about 100 blue balloons that ultimately and explosively symbolise the destruction of a family and their compatriots. He is greatly assisted by contrasting performances from his actors.

When she eschews the silliness, Miss Lauren's writing is often poetic and carries real weight, as she allows the tragedy to play itself out to an inevitable ending in a packed hour that has the dramatic impact of something much longer.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher