BWW Review: MONOLOG 3, Chickenshed Theatre
2020 is quite the year for monologues. There's Rafe Spall in Death of England at The National Theatre and Kate O'Flynn in all of it at the Royal Court. No less remarkable is monolog 3, Chickenshed's third season in what's becoming an annual event, one that embraces its venue's uniquely inclusive ethos.
Selected in blind competition, these nine pieces for single voices are developed by writer / director / actor teams and presented in batches (although, on press night, all nine were performed). As one would expect, the evening varies in subject matter and approaches, but what emerges are urgent messages about the way we live now.
The best was Grace Wolstenholme's cri de coeur, Why Can't You See Me? On the one hand, it was a slice of 21st century teenage life - girl enjoys clubbing, has a thing for Olly Murs, isn't quite sure of her place in the world. On the other, told with such energy, heart and an overwhelming veracity, it was a plea for standing in a world that too often cannot see past the palsy to the person. And if you've ever wondered how to end a monologue, well, Grace has the solution.
Seeing all nine pieces back-to-back is perhaps not ideal, as tone can leach from one performance to the next and that tone was often negative, the worlds into which we were let somewhat joyless.
In I Am A Shield, Sebastian Ross explored the egocentrism of a would-be writer who discovers that her jokes aren't as funny as she thinks they are and that people's antipathy towards her may be well founded. Sabina Bisset is good as the narcissistic subject, but her transformation comes a little too quickly, the steps on the road to self-awareness reported in from a Reddit discussion group. It's that journey that intrigues rather than the obnoxious person she once was and the more rounded person she becomes, and I'd like to have seen more of that.
In Pickled Limes, Cathy Jansen-Ridings shows a fine ear for capturing how people talk - there's no genre in which the differences between words on the page and words in the mouth is made more clear than in monologue - as Marion (Julie Wood) vents her frustration at an unseen, unheard Patrick, her disengaged husband, who has given up on the relationship. But she comes to realise that she needs him more than she imagined.
Another individual looking to find their feet in a confusing new world is Oliver LeClair's newly released prisoner, who, alone and waiting for his friends and family, looks back to the familiarity of the routine behind bars with more fondness than he looks forward to life On The Out. The anger still bubbles close to the surface and we fear for his prospects.
Graduates of monologs 1 and 2 have gone on to write full length plays and some of these short pieces have the air of works-in-progress about them. As such, they are crucial vehicles for artistic self-discovery and talent development, so Chickenshed must be applauded for its commitment to supporting the full diversity of London and beyond as communities seek their voices. Theatre needs time, money and confidence to succeed, and such qualities are in short supply even for those with all the advantages, never find those without.
I suspect I may not be alone in both looking forward to monolog 4 but also in hoping for a little more of the kind of joy Ms Wolstenholme found as she confessed to her "stalking" of her heroes. Until next year then.