Monica Dolan‘s thought-provoking play The B*easts uses minimalistic staging to reveal the impact that the sexualisation of women’s bodies in society, specifically the breasts, has on the loss of control that women have over their bodies. Dolan plays a psychotherapist recounting the case of an eight year old girl whose early sexuality and adult desire to have larger breasts give rise to a media furore that results in her being taken into care and sexually assaulted there whilst her mother faces trial for child abuse.
Dolan also attacks the hypocritical nature of society, where women with large breasts are viewed as not only sexually attractive but aspirational, yet when the breasts are placed in a more sinister context, such as the sexual exploitation of the girl, women are persecuted for their bodies and are held responsible for something that they have little control over.
Dolan takes a refreshingly balanced view of the subject matter that doesn’t resort to simplistic generalisations – crucial for such a hot-button topic. It’s also more relevant than ever, with issues of sexualisation and objectification in advertising as well as sexting and child abuse currently at the forefront of media concern. In particular, whilst Dolan criticises the attitudes to the girl having a breast enlargement operation from the school and authorities, she also is careful not to demonise them and present an overly biased view of the situation.
Dolan’s naturalistic performance and casual, conversational delivery also ensures that the therapist’s discussion of these issues doesn’t come across as an overly didactic lecture, which it could easily have done in lesser hands. The inclusion of a subplot concerning issues with the psychotherapist’s own body represented through recurring mobile phone calls further emphasises the debate about the control or lack of that women have over their own breasts.
The B*easts is an engaging Fringe debut that provides a much-needed discussion on issues that are rarely touched upon except in a lurid or polemical fashion. Dolan excels as both a writer and an actress in a play that should hopefully receive greater attention outside of the Fringe.