"What's your name. Sure tell us something, you're not to come to any harm. Seamus did you try the Dutch with him at all."
"We did."
"Ah your man is Urdu or Icelandic."
"We'll give him the Danish then. Good morgen, ja, tak. Ah it's no use. Sure if he was a Dane he'd be feeling right at home."
"He must speak something."
"We got the Latin out of him when we tried Gaelic. But Milo just came in with the translation a minute ago. And your man says in Latin 'virtue alone assists one.' "

- J.P. Donleavy from The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B

Photo by Stephen Hyde
Milton Shulman
This review first appeared in The Standard January 10, 1981.

"Beastly fate of Balthazar B"

by Milton Shulman

BALTHAZAR B was born very rich in Paris and was seduced by his nanny when he was 13.

Although J.P. Donleavy's novel The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B devotes a quarter of its pages to these biographical details of the central character, the play at the Duke of York's begins in 1946 with his days at Trinity College, Dublin, after he was so precociously introduced to the facts of life.

As it began, so does Balthazar's life go on. Protected by his money and too reticent to assert himself against the fickle finger of Fate, Balthazar allows himself to be pushed about like a helpless cork by the eddies of survival.

It is the lascivious randy Beefy, who can be sexually aroused by everything form clothing dummies to the Horseguards Parade, who gets him expelled form Trinity College when he smuggles two tarts in a steamer trunk into Balthazar's rooms.

It is the threat of legal action that forces him to marry Millicent even before he has managed to sleep with her in a riverside hotel.

And the only real happiness in his lonely is imposed upon him by Elizabeth, tenderly played by Susan Gilmore, who proposes marriage to him. When that marriage is mysteriously called off, his future becomes a deep will of sadness.

It is the outrageous Beefy, relying upon his listing in Debretts to provide him with a lifetime's wallowing in vigorous and aberrant sex, that gives the play its hilarious foundations.

Played by Simon Callow like some carnal whirlwind eager to take advantage of every opening it sight, Beefy is a joy of hammy egotistical abandon.

Patrick Ryecart, as Balthazar, looks like a neatly-pressed adult cherub and maintains a graceful note of passive innocence in the face of outlandish provocations by destiny.

Mr. Donleavy's dialogue has the formal cadences, bawdy exuberance and wry wit that gives it the air of a 20th century Restoration comedy.

It has a rococo humour that I find irresistible but is probably not to everyone's taste.

The direction by Ron Daniels and the suave sets by Liz da Costa smoothly link years and incidents with effective case but the poignant ending takes one aback after such concentration on ribald laughter.

To purchase books by J.P. Donleavy, go to
Buyers' Guide.

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