Chickenshed Theatre, London – until 2 March 2019
Following the success of last year’s inaugural event, Chickenshed’s Monolog is back in 2019 for a second outing. Seven very different pieces of new writing, all for solo performers, have been split into two groups and will be performed on a rolling basis for the duration of the run. On press night, however, we were treated to the full showcase – a varied, thought-provoking and entertaining selection covering a broad range of themes, including pregnancy, prison life, mental health, race and identity, and political protest.
The seven monologues were selected from a wide range of submissions, and each stands out in its own way. In Barbara Bakhurst’s poignant The Hostel Angel, directed by Grace Coulson-Harris, 14-year-old Sunny (Sophie White) reflects on life in a hostel with her stepdad. Determined to make the best of their grim living situation, she decorates a chart with stickers and makes cups of tea for the neighbours, as she watches her stepdad quietly fall apart – all while clinging with heartbreaking optimism to the belief that one day her absent mum will come back to them and everything will be okay.
There’s more youthful optimism in Face The Strange by Matthew Patenall, directed by Sydney Burges and Bradley Davis. Lee (Alex Murtinheira), a young man with autism, seizes the opportunity to join the protests against Donald Trump’s visit to the UK – but the day doesn’t go quite as planned. The piece asks some searching questions about the nature and effectiveness of public protest, and taps into the growing political engagement of young people across Britain.
The shortest piece in the programme is Belinda and Wendy Sharer’s poetic Mirror Me, directed by Loren Jacobs and Belinda McGuirk. A young woman (Celie Johns Main) dreams of being a dancer, and of being admired by the audience for her talent and tenacity – but a cruel twist reveals those dreams can exist only in her mind. The piece blends words and movement in a beautifully wistful performance. And in We Are All In It Together by Peter Hastings, directed by Rachel Yates (assisted by Ashley Driver), a prisoner (Kieran Faye) sits in his cell, thinking about life behind bars and eagerly anticipating his wife’s visit the next day – even though she missed the last one, and she’s just sent him a letter… Written from first hand experience, this is a keenly observed account of prison life and all the emotions that come with it.
Even, Odd… Odd, Even by Hannah Smith, directed by Sarah Connolly, is set in a dystopian society where everyone’s required by law to wear a number rating their current emotional state from 1 to 100. For one young woman (Sabina Bissett), though, there’s a big difference between the number she displays and how she actually feels. This was one of my favourite pieces of the evening – a powerful and very topical exploration of mental health and the damage that can result from keeping our feelings hidden away.
The panel received and reviewed all submissions for Monolog 2 blind, without knowing who had written what – and it’s both refreshing and encouraging to realise that five out of seven pieces in the resulting showcase are female voices. The final two of these are possibly the strongest of all. In Milly Rolle’s My Exploding Universe, directed by Tiia-Mari Mäkinen, a young woman has just discovered she’s pregnant after a one night stand. Milly Rolle gives an excellent performance; her panic and confusion are palpable as she contemplates her uncertain future, looks back at lessons learnt from her own mum, and confronts the responsibility she now faces of bringing new life into the world.
Stranger illustrated by Ryan Gough
And last but by no means least, Stranger, written and brilliantly performed by Alesha Bhakoo, delves with warmth, humour and insight into the writer’s experience as a second-generation immigrant in the UK, and her struggle to reconcile her two cultures and figure out who she is. Directed by Milly Rolle, Stranger concludes with a surprise twist that reminds the audience what we’re watching isn’t a story but real life.
Monolog makes a dramatic contrast to Chickenshed’s recent Christmas production, which – as is traditional – featured a cast of hundreds. But despite the simple staging and intimate venue, there’s just as much diversity, talent and food for thought to be found in this very enjoyable showcase championing powerful new writing. Who’s up for Monolog 3?
Monolog 2 is at Chickenshed until 2nd March. Check the website for the schedule and to find out which pieces will be performed on each date.
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