“the work could do with more contrast and development to illustrate the various parts of the original text and to expound the ideas it inspires”
From their new home in Tottenham Hale, Theatre N16’s collaboration with Styx art space provides a challenging yet creative location for its programmes. Behind a trendy outside bar area, the shows are staged in the bleak warehouse of an old brewery, allowing plenty of scope for invention. Proforca’s director, David Brady, cleverly uses this stark setting to bring out the darkness and pathos in Oscar Wilde’s ballad, ‘Reading Gaol’, written in reaction to his time in prison. Free but disgraced, his last work is not only in protest at the Victorian penal system but also an exploration of the paradoxes of morality as he describes the execution of one and the collective feelings of the other inmates. In this production, an updated version, new writing has been incorporated to expand on the ideas of freedom, oppression and conflict.
Beams of light, smoke and sounds effects combine to create an atmosphere of desolation. A scarlet jacket on a red chair is the only focus of colour. Five actors recite the ballad, pacing like prisoners to its plodding meter. At intervals, each in turn offers a character to illustrate the vulnerability of human nature and its consequences. Breaking up the poem with fresh material is effective considering that the rich, detailed language is hard to assimilate in one sitting, some lines being thrown away due to a lack of clarity and expression. However, at almost two hours running time the work could do with more contrast and development to illustrate the various parts of the original text and to expound the ideas it inspires.
The three central stories make the most impact. ‘Human’ uses imaginative, dramatic lighting effects with handheld lamps and a strong performance by Nic James to take us to the jungles of Africa. Interestingly offbeat in its rhythm, ‘Guardian’ sees Malcolm Jeffries anxiously fighting his isolation and in a soulful tale, ‘Innocent’ tells of a country lad, touchingly played by Miles Parker, in prison for his naivety. But it is the first and last parts which require stronger personality to give the play its overall shape. James Vincent underplays the disturbing quality of the cold-blooded ‘Monster’ and the writing of ‘Hero’ (Nick Cope) fails to convincingly finalise the play with its meandering thoughts.
Even though it could do with a spot of further remodelling, it has the novelty of mixing classical and contemporary narrative and a great sense of live performance from the moment we enter the building. The technical aspects are innovative and slick and the actors work well together and individually, and all in a venue which will be a discovery for most.
“This is what a night of monologues should look like”
Six people heave a collective sigh as it is announced that the train is delayed. Feel / More is made up of six monologues, by six writers (Fergus Church, Raoul Colvile, Harriet Lambert, Jamie Lewis, Simon Marshall and Stephanie Silver), responding to ‘Feel’ which is running at The Lion and Unicorn until March 31st. Each set in London, they address themes of loneliness, isolation and relationships, romantic and familial, lacing comedy with sadness in a warm and moving collection.
The show is opened by Nick Hyde as Tom. Tom is trying to cope with heartbreak and he has tried everything. He joined and immediately left the gym, bought a BFI membership and made it some way through a foreign language film. Now post break-up Tom has developed an obsession with his local bed shop, a way to fill his achingly empty weekends. It all started because he needed a new bed, and now he is fascinated by watching couples stretch out across tester beds in familiar shapes. This is a touching story of how we cope with heartbreak, of the places it takes us too, and the moment we realise we are ready to risk going through it all again for someone new. Nick Hyde has a lovely natural quality to his delivery, tender and endearing, and the narrative is utterly relatable in both its sadness and its hopefulness.
Next up, on the tube on the way to her new job as a “hotshot barista” for Starbucks, Jackie digs out her old diary and begins to write. Through diary entries we meet Nelly whose name Jackie misspells when she comes in for coffee – no one thinks about how hard that part of the job must be for someone with dyslexia. They kiss beneath giraffes at a zoo, and maybe, just maybe, one day they will be looking back at this diary together. Melissa Philips as Jackie is immediately likeable, warm and funny. The monologue is witty and original, full of an infectious optimism. It is a prime example of the kind of queer narratives theatre needs to see, narratives that are hopeful and about love and life not just about being queer. However unfortunately the narrative peters out towards the end, and the conclusion feels weak and predictable after such a strong beginning. After such a promising start, I wanted more.
It’s a Tuesday, the most unremarkable day of the week according to Charlie (David Hepburn). Stood at the station in rush hour, Charlie contemplates killing himself, beginning to question what exactly he is living for. There is a lovely atypical disjunct between the subject of the piece and Hepburn’s cheery delivery of it. Certainly it addresses some vital issues – the silence around male mental health is a relevant and important conversation, and the compartmentalisation of London life is surely something everyone in the audience understands. However the monologue doesn’t flow, in part due to an over-use of pauses by Hepburn, coupled with an overly long script. At points it feels like the character is reeling off analogy after analogy, unaware that the audience has got the message several paragraphs earlier. Whilst there are some lovely moments in the piece, both from a writing and an acting perspective, it is too drawn out for it’s message to be as impactful as it has the potential to be.
Kate O’Rourke opens the second act of the night and steals the show as Jess. A thirty four year old – or “nearly forty” as her mother insists – gay cardiovascular surgeon sits in a pub crying over a condom. This is a beautifully written piece from beginning to end, that opens out over and over again, just as you expect it to be over. Jess wants to have a baby, something that’s significantly more complicated when you are a single lesbian, dealing daily with the dichotomy of “so many people loving you for doing your job” but no one being “in love with you”. Through lovely impressions that range from funny to tender, we meet Jess’ mother and witness their relationship, its hilarity and its intimacy. This is another beautiful queer narrative handled without use of stereotype, and it is the strongest piece of the evening.
Mona (Catrin Keeler) is a commitment phobe. Ironically she has just committed to a six week course about coping with commitment phobia. What begins as loudly playful, soons evolves into one of the hardest hitting pieces of the night, a story of severe abuse, told graphically but not gratuitously. Keeler makes this transition with ease, and whilst I think she takes a couple of lines to warm up both the writing and her delivery of it combine to create a strong and incredibly moving piece of theatre.
Last on the bill, an Uber driver, Angelo (Malcolm Jeffries), collects stories from his passengers that he can tell his ailing Dad who has ME and the carer who he has taken a fancy to. The piece addresses the implications of Brexit for a Finnish / Russian worker, and the deterioration that illness brings with it. However it does not fully explore either the characters involved or the topics at hand. There is no narrative development and the piece feels meandering, without direction or shape. Even Jeffries’ delivery feels unfocused and stilting. This is a weak finish to what is otherwise a night of very exciting new writing showcased by some wonderful performances. Take note. This is what a night of monologues should look like.