One of the aims of Falling Pennies theatre company is to look at issues that are prone to falling under the radar and ‘Beetles From The West’, a well observed work from James Hartnell, certainly does that and does it well.
The play involes three characters, Boyd, his girlfriend Jenny and the Doctor Henry and is set in a stark and sterile waiting room. The room at the Hope theatre, is small, but always entirely transforms itself to perfectly and magically inhabit the work that fills it.
The playing space is a white square on the floor, sparsely peppered with the usual waiting room effects. It perfectly gives the impression of a souless anthiseptic white box reminicient of so many waiting rooms like it in a thousand hospitals. Time; the frustration of waiting and even the passing of time in ones life, is highlighted by the ominous clock hanging above the casts heads. As the audience enters the cast are waiting, Boyd and his girlfriend Jenny are waiting to hear the prognosis for Boyd’s father, a man who by Boyd’s description has ‘never even had a cold’. Henry, the doctor is waiting to inform them that is cancer, prostrate cancer, and that it has spread. The theme of time, its fragility and the affect of the past on the present is prevelant througout the work and is indicated by abstract monologe scenes which bisect the play. It is a serious work, but the are moments of comedy within the piece, the light making the dark all the more affecting.
Ryan Penny, artistic director of Falling Pennies asked writer James Hartnell to write the piece after his own father was diagnosed with prostrate cancer in 2015. It is Penny who undertakes the role of Boyd and his first hand experience is viscerally and powerfully evident in his performance. Passion positively pours from him as we the audience experience with him at first frustration, denial, anger, pain and finally acceptance. Jenny and Henry’s characters are not merely sidelines, but also relive past experience which inform the present and shape the unfolding drama.
There are facts, statistics and even advice parlayed into the text of ‘Beetles from the West’, but it is never preachy, never too obvious and may just encourage someone not to ingnore symptoms that may need an expert eye and which should never, ever, be googled.
Reviewed by Byron Butler
Beetles from the West plays at The Hope Theatre until the 23rd July