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Monogamy – Theatre Royal, York

Writer: Torben Betts

Director: Alastair Whatley

Designer: James Perkins

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

Monogamy is far from a wasted evening in the theatre – there are too many good lines and dramatic situations for that, plus three fine performances – but it is a disappointment for those who anticipated more solid and consistently entertaining fare, given the strength of the casting and Torben Betts’ track record of quirkily intelligent, theatrically satisfying comedy-drama.

The production by The Original Theatre Company is nearing the end of a short tour before a five-week stay in the West End and the audience at York Theatre Royal received it appreciatively enough, though without those necessary concomitants of a comedy (as it is billed): laughter and the odd chuckle. 

The play begins (briefly) as a parodic comedy and ends as a black farce; what it is between those two poles is difficult to decide. Central to the action is Caroline Mortimer (Janie Dee), a fervently Christian TV cook whose shtick is to present the programme from her own kitchen with guests ranging from Michelin-starred chefs to ordinary folk. The play begins with a rehearsal for the programme, a nice send-up with Caroline’s personal assistant Amanda standing in for a Swedish restaurateur.

Soon the stage is populated with figures it’s difficult to believe in, notably Leo, the almost childish son, recently graduated with a First from Cambridge (Jack Archer) and Amanda who, with her grotesque accents and lurches from baroque formality to wincingly precise criticism, is beyond description. One charitable theatre-goer at York described the character as “interesting”, but quite possibly Genevieve Gaunt, when she looks back on her career at some time in the distant future, will remember Amanda as the most irritating character she ever played.

Ideas are ingenious, themes and deceptions numerous, with the steady dripping in of the information that will break up Caroline’s cosy world well-timed and effective, but the surprises aren’t surprising enough: the scandals and domestic crises that affect her are totally predictable as is the neat ending.

The frantic moments in Alastair Whatley’s polished production hint at the need to raise a chuckle, but Janie Dee, as always, is supremely watchable, accomplished and believably human, though the character lacks the hinterland to involve us fully. Charlie Brooks is compellingly convincing as the mentally disturbed Sally – to explain where she fits in would destroy a few surprises – but doesn’t have enough to do. The other key performance is that of Patrick Ryecart as Caroline’s husband Mike. His whole performance seems to operate in a formidably articulate alcoholic haze as he returns from the golf club to grasp with furious uncertainty at concepts and lifestyles he can’t understand. The farcical momentum of the second half stems from the energy with which Mike stumbles down blind alleys and attempts to comprehend his wife and son’s conduct.

Torben Betts is often compared to Alan Ayckbourn – understandably – and among the qualities he shares with the Scarborough Master is the fecundity of his theatrical imagination; the next play is seldom long delayed. Monogamy, one imagines, will not be long remembered in his growing list of theatrical successes.

Touring nationwide | Image: Simon Annand

Writer: Torben Betts Director: Alastair Whatley Designer: James Perkins Reviewer: Ron Simpson Monogamy is far from a wasted evening in the theatre – there are too many good lines and dramatic situations for that, plus three fine performances – but it is a disappointment for those who anticipated more solid and consistently entertaining fare, given the strength of the casting and Torben Betts’ track record of quirkily intelligent, theatrically satisfying comedy-drama. The production by The Original Theatre Company is nearing the end of a short tour before a five-week stay in the West End and the audience at York Theatre…

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