Reviewed – 8th February 2018
“McGuirk gives a delightful performance, drawing the audience in with her bold and bubbly characterisation”
Single narrative performances are a theatrical style whose popularity has fluctuated over the years, even though it has maintained an underground following. However, recently, there does seem to be a resurgence of theatres within the capital that are allocating more space within their programme to showcase this art form. Whether it is in the shape of a poetry slam, a spoken word night, or a solo performance event, the singular voice is taking centre stage once more. North London’s Chickenshed Theatre is one such place that has jumped on the bandwagon. Their new production, Monolog, is a celebration of the lone voice, and the vast, diverse approaches in which it can be heard.
In an intimate and relaxed setting, four, non-linking monologues that include new writing as well as the work of established writers are given exposure, delivered with vitality and enthusiasm. Opening with Her Big Chance by Alan Bennett, Belinda McGuirk presents the piece from what is probably the most recognisable collection of dramatic monologues, Talking Heads. Julie Walters had originally played the part of starry-eyed actress, Lesley, for the small screen, but here, McGuirk gives a delightful performance, drawing the audience in with her bold and bubbly characterisation. The monologue does seem dated now, with its references and the character’s moral naivety, though still topical in light of the recent uncoverings of sexual abuse and harassment cases within the film industry.
A newly commissioned autobiographical piece, This Is Me, by Diane Samuels (best known for her play Kindertransport) is the second offering. The performance is a snapshot of memories of her life with alternating performances by either Belinda McGuirk as the older Diane, or Lucy Mae Beacock as the younger, depending on which performance you see. I saw the younger self, sweetly portrayed by Beacock using an unconventional method of audience participation to reveal the next vignette of her early life, gradually building the bigger picture of who she is. Beacock gives a confident and assured performance as the young Diane, but the content is rather underwhelming.
The most thrilling contributions to the show are the two monologues from the ‘New Writing’ selection, which have a fresh and vibrant voice. A total of six have been written by various affiliates of the Chickenshed community, rotating between which are presented. Last Piece of the Sun, collaboratively devised by Alesha Bhakoo, Dave Carey and Milly Rolle, follows the heart-breaking consequences of a one-night stand, which Bhakoo performs with real believability. Whilst, the kooky, I Find Love In A Bin (In Waterloo Station) by Peter Dowse, is wonderfully brought to life by Sarah Connelly, who imaginatively uses the abstract imagery to her advantage.
This showcase of work is a pleasant reminder of how important the monologue is to the arts, and the power in which in can behold in telling a narrative. Moving through varying emotions and periods of time Monolog demonstrates how far the form has come along, whilst contemplating how much wider its parameters could be pushed in the future.
Reviewed by Phoebe Cole
Photography by Daniel Beacock
Chickenshed Theatre until 3rd March
Upstairs at the Gatehouse
24th June 2017
” Informative and enjoyable to watch, but lacking the pace, nuance and character development to match the brilliance of this writing”
World War II was and will always be one of Europe’s darkest history. For us today we see it as a distant past, something younger generations learn in school but are no longer connected with; unless one is Jewish or knows people still alive who were still alive around that period.
Kindertransport written by Diane Samuels in 1993 is a beautiful analysis and depiction of stories in World War II that we often don’t hear about. Until this play I had had no knowledge of the kindertransport programme. This programme saved Jewish children in Germany, allowing them to safely live in England under a foster carer but it was only the children that were allowed to live in the UK.
The play begins in present time where Faith is going through her Grandmother’s attic, clearing out her mother’s things. As the play develops, Faith begins discovering her family’s harrowing past that had been locked away and never spoken about. This play beautifully analyses a mother and daughter’s relationship and how painful some secrets once uncovered can be.
This production was rare, in that the writing shone more than the acting and direction. Diane’s poetic writing, is beautifully structured as we are taken from the present to moments in the past of a young Jewish German girl called Eva played by Katrin Kasper. Katrin’s performance of a 9, 15 and 17 year old was surprisingly believable. Admittedly, I tend to detest actors playing young children, but this young actress managed to convince me and drew me to her world. However, the character development for young Eva was heading towards the right direction, but I didn’t feel that Katrin managed to go all the way.
Unfortunately, this was a mishap that happened to all the characters in this piece. I found I wasn’t able to fully invest myself in the characters. Perhaps, it was partially because I knew the story to be too painful and thus didn’t want to have to go through that amount of sadness.
However, without ruining the plot, the biggest character development has to be of that of Evelyn’s. This character goes from being your typical jolly, well spoken and articulate mother to a withering mess. A task too big for Ruth Sullivan (who played Evelyn). Ruth didn’t bring the emotional vulnerability required for this character. In a monologue where she was completely broken and crying, I didn’t feel anything with her. I was left wanting more.
This piece needed to, at times, quicken its pace. It had stuck to the same pace and thus ruined the importance of some scenes. Surprisingly, it wasn’t that it was boring or too slow; on the contrary, the play whizzed through and I was engaged throughout, but particularly in the scenes where the characters were having an argument the pace of these scenes didn’t work for the writing and the situation and thus really didn’t do justice to the way the play written.
Amanda Waggott as Lil was great and I immediately fell in love with her. She played Lil as such a lovely woman that at times left me laughing a bit too loud. However, again the same issue arises with Amanda’s performance in that Lil was a one tone pony. Her character never really went any further than being a nice lady. Her performance lacked depth and believeability where we often found Lil delivering lines in the same way or holding herself in a very stereotypical old lady pose with her hands constantly resting on her hips as she hunched her back. I understand that this was a tool to demonstrate to the audience the difference between the older and younger Lil but unfortunately Amanda Waggott got too stuck with this physicality and thus lost the truth in her character.
This production of Kindertransport was unfortunately unmemorable. Angharad Ormond (the director) had the elements to create a beautiful piece with very interesting elements such as shadow imagery and live music. But even these elements lacked structure and at times didn’t bode well with the overall feel of the piece. Although, Paul Willcocks as the masked Postman/Guard/Officer and Organiser added a comedic energy and subtlety that was thoroughly enjoyable.
Overall, Kindertransport was informative and enjoyable to watch, but lacked the pace, nuance and character development to match the brilliance of this writing.
Reviewed by Daniel Correia
Production Photography by Robert Piwko
is at Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 2nd July