Monkey  – The VAULT Festival, London

Writer: David K. Barnes

Director:  John Rushton

Reviewer:  Richard Maguire

In writer David K. Barnes’ parallel world, life is much the same in the coastal towns of England; people still eat ice creams and beauty contests are banned, but, strangely, dancing monkeys are still a seaside entertainment. This is the set-up for a dark parable on gaslighting, and yet, despite its current relevance, Monkey is ultimately too thinly drawn for its 50-minute running time.

In a seaside resort we meet Marcus and his monkey. He calls the monkey Bobo, but the monkey tells us that he is actually a she, and that her preferred name is Barbara. Of course, monkeys can’t speak and so, instead, we hear the thoughts of Barbara coming through two speakers standing at either end of the stage. As the monkey Beth Eyre nods or grimaces to her disembodied voice that is spoken by Rosie Fletcher, delivering these lines from backstage. It’s a conceit that soon becomes tiresome, and Fletcher’s approach makes the monkey unappealing self-righteous.

At the start of the play it appears that while Marcus is not particularly nice to his monkey, nor he is particularly cruel. This ambivalent relationship is mirrored in how he treats his girlfriend Paula (an underused Kate Sketchley), but as the play enfolds and as we see Paula and Barbara strike up a relationship, we lean more of how Marcus controls them both. He won’t let Paula work, and has taken her redundancy money for himself. While Ben Bruckshaw tries his best with Essex boy Marcus, he’s not entirely believable and the show works better when it’s just the two women on stage.

Monkey’s premise is intriguing and yet this production by Tumbledry Theatre is underwhelming and slight. It needs to be fleshed out to give Paula some detailed characterisation. At the moment she is a blur, despite the fact that the monkey ventriloquizes her thoughts. The play also seems very static but with the help of a movement director, Monkey could be quite affecting.

Runs until 17 February 2019 | Image: Contributed

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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