Monolog – Chickenshed Theatre, London

Writer: Various
Director: Lou Stein
Reviewer: Deborah Parry

When you think monologue – Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads would likely spring to mind. What started out as a collection of screenplays, first broadcast on the BBC in the 1980s, they have since gained worldwide fame, with the pieces being adapted for the stage and have been frequently performed around the globe. It is brave then to juxtapose such popular and well-written material next to brand new work and one might think that such a move could be disastrous but The Chickenshed Theatre proves quite the opposite to be true.

We start with the old and then move on to the new – setting the tone and launching our evening on a high. Belinda McGuirk plays Lesley in Her Big Chance, a monologue from the aforementioned Talking Heads collection – originally performed by Julie Walters. Lesley is a naïve actress who thinks she’s about to get her big break in the film industry but, we soon cotton on to the fact (even if she doesn’t) that she’s being exploited instead – the part that she’s so proud to be playing appears to be nothing more than a character in a soft porn film. What is a comical piece and draws much laughter from the audience, has a dark centre – especially when performed in the current climate, where reports of actresses being taken advantage of by high profile Hollywood figures is dominating the news; with this in mind, the monologue has a revived relevancy.

Next we have an autobiographical monologue This is Me – by playwright Diana Samuels about her childhood and how it influenced her dream to become a writer. Young actress Lucy Mae Beacock delivers the piece tonight but the role is alternated with older actress Belinda McGurik (who also performs Lesley in Her Big Chance) – no doubt bringing a different tone to the material. Beacock gives the audience fragments of cloth with titles written on them and invites us to hand them back to her at various points. The words appear on a screen behind her and she then performs mini-monologues about the titles in question. This form of storytelling is highly effective and we are drawn into captivating tales of dancing, family dramas and fugitive cats. Beacock is utterly charming and gives a highly competent performance – she brings a delicate fragility to the role, alongside a weighty strength, both of which result in a highly engaging experience. She is a superb storyteller and makes the material spring to life with great vigour.

Finally, we move on to the new – created in-house, we have two monologues written by members of the Chickenshed company and performed by young actresses from youth theatre groups. In the Last Piece of Sun we are given the story of a woman who, at the start of a promising career in law, finds out she is pregnant after a one night stand. It is a tragic tale and is told through words and physicality – with the actress contorting and moving in ways that aid our understanding of the story. She tells us that the moon brings mother and child together and this metaphor underpins the highly emotional piece.

We end on a surreal monologue entitled I Find Love in a Bin. An energetic and enthusiastic character appears in a wedding dress and gives us a manic speech about finding love in a bin in Waterloo station – telling us of her feelings of frustration, elation and utter chaos upon this discovery. Young actress Sarah Connolly is energetic and playful – making the very avant-garde piece more accessible to those unfamiliar with the style.

Despite their popularity with audiences, it is actually rare for such a wide variety of monologues to be brought together, as they have been in this instance. The material – on this occasion has been incredibly well selected and though there is no thread in terms of theme, the pieces sit together exceptionally well due to the high quality of writing, direction and delivery. They are all perfectly paced and never do they feel like they have dragged on for too long. One hopes Chickenshed will consider making Monolog a regular event, giving voice to new writers and ensuring the form of theatrical storytelling inspires theatre goers for generations to come.

Runs until 3 March 2018 | Image: Contributed

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