Writer: Torben Betts
Director: Alastair Whatley
Reviewer: Scott Matthewman
There is a moment where dinner, as prepared by Caroline Mortimer (“Britain’s second favourite TV cook”) emerges from the oven, charred and smoking, overdone because the character’s attention was wandering all over the place. As goes the family roast, so goes Monogamy, which collapses under its writer’s inability to focus.
Torben Betts’s family comedy does at least have strong performances at its core. Janie Dee, better known for her musical theatre roles, is highly watchable throughout as Caroline. Dealing with a potential exposé in the Sunday papers after being papped falling drunk out of a cab, Dee’s portrayal of a woman getting more and more drunk at the kitchen table is subtly, believably done even as Betts concocts a series of other distractions.
The weirdest of these is her assistant (Genevieve Gaunt), whose dialogue is a bizarre mix of cod Shakespearean and street slang. But there is also Leo, her newly graduated son who is upset that his mother’s in denial about his coming out; Caroline’s gammon-faced, golf-loving banker husband; and Graeme, the muscular handyman with whom she has been having a not-too-subtle affair.
Throw in Caroline’s religious beliefs, fleeting references to Darwinism and you get a hint at what could have been a daring, witty look at the origins, causes and faults of human monogamous relationships. Instead, Graeme’s disturbed, wronged wife (Charlie Brooks, in a role designed to exercise all the emotional beats she used in EastEnders and not a thing more) arrives and pockets the rather obvious kitchen knife which has been signposted from the off.
Betts’s rat-a-tat dialogue keeps the pace up at all times, but only because no character ever listens to any of the others. The perpetual interruptions and self-obsessions of all the characters may be attempting to say something about the narcissist tendencies of the upper middle classes, but throughout one is just yearning for one character to be allowed to finish a sentence.
There are some flashes of tenderness among the family dysfunction – a late, brief second act rapprochement between Patrick Ryecart’s Mike and his son Leo (a highly capable Jack Archer, hamstrung by excruciating dialogue) hints at a far more believable family dynamic than Betts seems to care about.
As events spiral into the freneticism of farce without anywhere near the requisite level of humour, though, the biggest sense of anticipation is whether James Perkins’s set – intended to be the sort of upmarket kitchen that a TV chef may have at home, but which looks rather more like a Changing Rooms-style MDF fabrication – will withstand the physicality demanded of it.
There are laughs to be had throughout, but with multiple plot strands set up in Act I that are forgotten about by the play’s conclusion, one would rather hope for more than that. As it is, with Monogamy’s heat turned up so high, the result is something that is overdone on the outside, with an equally unappetising, undercooked core.
Runs until 7 July 2018 | Image: Helen Maybanks