Touring – reviewed at Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury
Playwright Torben Betts has turned to the kitchen for inspiration with his latest play, Monogamy, delving into the pantry of celebrity chef Caroline Mortimer and discovering that there’s no recipe for happiness among her haute cuisine success.
A national tour, which has just started, pitched up in Aylesbury’s Waterside Theatre, but it failed to tickle the taste buds. Instead of a culinary treat, Monogamy is a melange of ideas that have been thrown together without anyone overriding flavour dominating the mix. It isn’t funny enough to be called a comedy, not dark enough for satire, and lacks any clear purpose.
What is Betts trying to say with this sortie into the world of saucepans and souffles? And can director Alastair Whatley find his inner Gordon Ramsay to whip this production into shape? Everyone knows how the lives of seemingly perfect celebrities are actually as screwed up as the rest of us. It’s nothing new. Pick up any popular newspaper and you’ll read about the latest squeaky clean star to fall off the wagon, cheat or worse.
So are we surprised that perfect TV chef, Caroline Mortimer, who lives in an uber-trendy North London house with her cold, remote, golf-obsessed banker husband, is any different? What’s more, do we care?
Betts serves up a dish of cold offal. There’s nothing nice or refreshing or mouth-watering to savour in this rather uninteresting tale about a group of sad, depressed and deeply flawed characters who spend the best part of two hours drunkenly revealing their weaknesses.
Janie Dee, as Mortimer, staves off insecurity with a bit of rough (former Luton Town footballer turned teetotal carpenter, Graeme) and copious glasses of wine. Her husband, Mike, has reached his three score and ten and is expecting to pop off any minute. But, until he gets the call, he spends most of his time on the golf course.
When Mike (Patrick Ryecart) storms back home he’s loud, domineering and borish. An alpha male used to being the centre of attention but who now fears his own mortality.
But you can’t sympathise despite learning that he was beaten as a child. He has been an absentee father, due, we assume, to working long hours, earning squillions screwing investors.
He has no relationship with his three kids and is incapable of showing any affection to them or his wife.
Son Leo – Eton and Cambridge educated – returns home to declare that he is a vegan, now smokes, and intends to squander his newly achieved First, by becoming a volunteer do-gooder in a war zone.
Worse he has a shocking secret to tell his father – if only he could summon up the courage.
Meanwhile Caroline’s infuriating PA, Amanda, swans around snorting coke and being abusive, Graeme (Jack Sandle) hopes for a few minutes alone with his masterchef, and the chippy’s less than chipper wife arrives looking for answers.
It is impossible for the audience to like anyone on stage. They are obnoxious and, worse, not quite au fait with their lines. The dialogue is peppered with pauses from the under-prepared cast, unless it was first night nerves.
Throughout the first act we see Caroline being a proper little Nigella, rehearsing her TV show in her designer kitchen, preparing a celebratory meal for Leo, while juggling her wayward son, several glasses of plonk, and an unwelcome visitor – not to mention the threat of an exposé by a Sunday newspaper.
Then hurricane Mike blows in, grandstanding, and, as a storm gathers outside, the finale erupts into a scene of chaos that makes little sense and smacks of desperation.
“I’ve something of a bombshell to drop,” says Jack Archer’s prevaricating Leo. Really? In this day and age?
Monogamy is a disappointment with neither the story or characters fully developed. It’s a slight, insipid comedy that lacks meat. A side salad of a play rather than a five-course banquet.
Janie Dee’s drunk act is as overcooked as Genevieve Gaunt’s sniffing, cocky, contemptuous turn as Amanda while Graeme’s attempts at getting his leg over is ridiculously inept.
And former EastEnders’ star, Charlie Brooks, is woefully underused as the mentally unstable Sally.