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- J.P. Donleavy from The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B
"The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B"
After the traumas of German history between the wars and the Chinese invasion of Tibet, J.P. Donleavy's The Beastly Beatitude of Balthazar B (Duke of York's) must seem like the answer to the problems of West End theatre. This has all the boisterous rhetoric and gleeful, harmless bawdy in which Donleavy has excelled in his novels and plays since the days of The Ginger Man and A Fairy Tale of New York. It has a large cast but the only two characters who matter, plenty of action of a rumbustious kind but not much plot.
Balthazar, handsome, diffident and thought be some to be a prince, is leading a quiet life at Trinity College, Dublin, reading zoology. Into his rooms bursts an old schoolfriend called Beefy, who is a flamboyantly and irrepressibly vulgar and is studying theology. The play takes its shape from their contrasting characters and their shared fate. While the wealthy Balthazar hesitantly forms a romantic attachment with another student, Elizabeth Fitzdare (Susan Gilmore), Beefy, for whom the proper study of mankind involves an indiscriminate pursuit of women and an enthusiastic approach to the application of technology for the satisfaction of lust, is cheerfully on the offensive at once. When he picks up two women and brings them to Balthazar's rooms, the Junior Dean discovers them. The errant students are sent down, Beefy is disinherited by granny, and the scene moves to London where the two seek to restore their fortunes by marrying money.
The London scenes yield some amusing character sketches, but Donleavy's concern as ever is with the indestructible egotism of the predatory male. This is given expression in the torrents of exuberant eloquence with which his young men seem naturally inclined to examine themselves. The effect is doubly self-conscious, for the invitation to the audience to enjoy the full-blown cadenzas as virtuoso pieces is very clear. Simon Callow as the roaring, unrepentant lecher, Beefy, has the best of this. As his partner Patrick Ryecart brings a great deal of charm to the less assertive Balthazar, but he is inclined to fade into an introspective mist when when he is supposed to be indicating his perplexity at life, and some reflective passages are too muted to serve any purpose. But The Beastly Beatitudes, directed by Ron Daniels, is an enjoyable play in an old-fashioned, innocent sort of way.
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