In 2004, Friends ended, and David Schwimmer came to London to star in a play; in 2004, Sex and the City finished, and Kim Cattrall came to London to star in a play; also in 2004, Frasier left the building ...and no one came to London to star in a play.
But no more! David Hyde Pierce has made his West End debut in La Bête, starring as Elomire, the writer for a troupe of actors patronised by The Princess (Joanna Lumley). However, he resents her order that he is to work with a street actor named Valere (Mark Rylance), who is the most insufferable, insensitive, pretentious, clueless empty vessel that one can have the misfortune to meet. The Princess, however, thinks he is marvellous.
After reasoning and arguing, the only thing Elomire can do to convince the unpredictable Princess that Valere is a bad idea is to get her to watch him perform alongside her troupe, as he tends to play all the characters in his plays himself – sort of like Eddie Murphy. Will The Princess remain blind to his inferiority, or will a second viewing of his play open her eyes?
Set in 17th Century France, events occur in real time in Elomire’s study, which appears to be covered from floor to ceiling with Ikea’s black Billy bookcases holding innumerable volumes and tomes of books.
When a piece of falling masonry landed inches away from him, he carried on, unperturbed, so naturally we assumed it was part of the play to show the crumbling surroundings in which he lived, or to read more deeply, to symbolise the crumbling of the high culture that Elomire thrives on.
However, we found out later it was to show the crumbling of the Comedy Theatre, and had nothing to do with the play at all. Had it landed half a foot further into the stage, it could have been a nasty bump on the head for poor Mr Hyde Pierce.
Speaking of bumps on the head, Valere must surely have had some knock or fall on the noggin at some point in his life.
At least nowadays, actors with only air in their heads keep their mouths shut about high culture. Valere, on the other hand, does nothing but talk utter nonsense about it, in one particular scene for twenty minutes almost uninterrupted.
Where’s a piece of falling masonry when you need it?
When Valere jestingly offers Elomire a gag to shove in his mouth, and Elomire hesitantly reaches for it, it took all my self-restraint not to shout “Go on! Or I’ll do it for you!”
There is no interval in La Bête, although frankly we could have done with one after forty minutes in Valere’s extraordinary company, although fifteen minutes would hardly have been enough time for everyone to get to the bar to order a stiff drink.
Despite this, La Bête is toilet humour and slapstick mixed with verbal wit spoken in rhyming verse, which was genuinely hilarious. My stomach has not hurt that much from laughing since I saw Michael McIntyre last October.
Elomire’s finest moment comes with an impassioned rant against the desecration of high culture by popular culture, and I for one, agree with him.