In for the chop

Eddie Perfect’s The Beast is a trip from hoof to hook, writes Paul Galloway.

A few years ago Eddie Perfect was living out in Healesville and enjoying the Yarra Valley lifestyle, which included, memorably, a large dinner party in which a fatted calf was slaughtered and butchered before the guests. Its various cuts were subsequently cooked and served in many ways, each matched with an appropriate wine. This sort of nose-to-tail dining was new to Perfect, who had an enjoyable night and an edifying one, too.

‘The whole idea is to introduce people to the realities of the farm,’ he explains. ‘You get to see where the cuts of beef come from. It makes you interested and engaged in the process. There’s no bullshit about it. It’s farm life.’

The evening, however, was not without its drama. On entering the refrigerated truck to carve up the carcass, the butcher slipped and cut open his hand. He was rushed to Ringwood Hospital, but happily returned some time later, stitched up and keen to finish the job.

‘And while we were waiting, we all talked about what we’d do if he didn’t come back,’ says Perfect. ‘Or worse, what if the guy that slaughtered the calf hadn’t turned up. And that seemed to me to be a great idea for a play: if you have these tree-changing couples that have to kill the cow themselves, who have the theory but not the expertise. What would that mean? And so from that point the idea devolved. Basically, The Beast became a satire about middle class people dealing with the feelings of guilt that come with their affluence.’

The trick of satire, according to Perfect, is to poke fun at human inconsistency and weakness, rather than evil. Pretence is funny.

‘Sometimes people get attached to a cause not just because they want to do good, but because they want to be seen to be doing good,’ he says. ‘And then the whole thing becomes about status. Their environmental concern becomes a power play, a contest of who can display the greatest amount of good. The stakes become incredibly high over things which might otherwise seem quite unimportant, like what lettuce is on trend, or what car they’re driving, what nappies they’re using, or what Sauvignon Blanc is good to drink.’

Over the past decade or so, Eddie Perfect has kept adding strings to his bow and awards to his shelf. Many of you would know him from his television appearances in Offspring, others from the hit stage show Shane Warne – the Musical, which he wrote and starred in. Musician-actor-composer-musical performer-comedian-singer-musical director – now, with The Beast, he adds ‘playwright’ as the caboose in this impressive train of epithets. Taking a considerable leap of faith, Artistic Director Brett Sheehy, within his first weeks at MTC, commissioned the play on the strength of its intriguing premise.

‘Brett called me in to ask me whether I had any ideas for musicals,’ Perfect recalls. ‘I said I didn’t, but I had this idea for a play. The great thing about this idea is that everyone gets it in a couple of sentences. Everyone sees its satirical possibilities. And within fifteen minutes Brett was saying, “Yeah, let’s do that!” And I thought – “Oh hell! Now I’ll have to write it!”’

Since being announced as the production to drop into the open Zeitgeist slot, The Beast has undergone extensive rewrites. The Company held a week-long workshop which, Perfect admits, opened his eyes to some problems with his early draft.

‘You learn some hard lessons when you give it to actors,’ he says. ‘I mean, it’s a comedy for a start, so you know right away when a line isn’t funny. And in a reading you become very much aware of whose role is well realised and whose isn’t. The female characters I found in particular – well, there wasn’t really much on the page for them. And in the workshop, once I heard certain actors speak the lines it made a massive difference. It became much easier to write those characters. As a consequence the possibilities sort of exploded.

‘The best thing Iain Sinclair, the director, asked the cast was: “Is there anything you would like to see happen with your character that’s not in the play?” And the surprising overall response from everyone was to go darker, do more disturbing things. So as a consequence I’m now writing a show that’s actually more raw and brutal than I first thought. And it is really fun to go there.’

*Eddie Perfect’s The Beast is playing at Southbank Theatre, The Sumner from 3 October to 9 November *

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