The Guardian, Friday 23 February 2007
Fabulous Beast have made their reputation by trashing sacred texts: Giselle, Romeo and Juliet, and now the 12th-century Irish epic The Cattle-Raid of Cooley. Yet as one of the many corpses who end up littering the stage tonight points out, “You can’t kill what’s already dead,” and arguably the company have never been more successful at breathing subversive life into their material than in this production, titled The Bull.
The original epic is about two families and their long feud over a prize bull; it is this scenario that Fabulous Beast transpose to 21st-century Ireland. The characters are unmistakably, and loathsomely, contemporary — from the euro-millionaire Fogartys, with their designer fantasies and dysfunctional kids, to the boozing, incompetent dynasty of plasterers, the Cullens.
Why Maeve, the psychotic Fogarty matriarch, should covet the Cullens’ bull, and why the latter should defy her, is itself a perversely twisted tale. But what was originally a saga of heroism and honour is now a ruthlessly comic anatomisation of greed, stupidity and corruption as the two families, their pets, their lovers, even the cast of an Irish dance show (The Celtic Bitch), are slaughtered in a deliriously accelerating torrent of tribal bloodlust.
Part of the show’s delight is the witty, improbable and outrageously graphic detail with which the deaths are staged — knitting needles to the throat, a golf iron to the skull. But just as entertaining are the swipes the show takes at modern Ireland: the Church, Michael Flatley, consumer and celebrity culture are surreally and savagely lampooned. Occasionally the violence becomes too frenzied and the plot loses focus, but pitch-perfect performances keep the chaos in check. This is murderously good satire, from which only the bull emerges unscathed.
Judith Mackrell, The Guardian ★★★★