After taking A Clockwork Orange to the Edinburgh Fringe last year and with their rapidly increasing success, this year Fourth Monkey have taken things to the next level with a company of 50 performing six plays in repertory. If you’re not familiar with Fourth Monkey, they’re a company which uniquely offers, in the words of Artistic Director Steven Green, “an exciting alternative to drama school which is a performance based, practical alternative. I won’t beat about the bush, I’m not saying drama school isn’t the route, it is for many many people; but opposed to spending two and a half years in a black box doing stuff that is fundamentally banal and useless in a career sense, I’d much rather spend two years working with them, training them to use their voice, and giving them performance experience and mental experience.” AYT interviewed Green a year ago and comparing the vision he had for the company then, with what he’s achieved now, means he must definitely be doing something right.
“Quite how we’ve got to where we’ve got in the space of time I don’t know; it’s just a testament to hard work and a genuine realisation of what the industry is missing in a way. Stylistically, we have a certain brand I think.” Already, Fourth Monkey are gathering a reputation for their updated versions of classics like The Bacchae, as well as more in-yer-face plays like 4.48 Psychosis. “It doesn’t have to be visceral, or ensemble-based stuff, that’s just what appeals to me. I like to be hit across the face when I go to the theatre. I’ve no issue with text based stuff but I think a piece of theatre should be engaging in a multi-sensory way.”
So audiences that have never seen a Fourth Monkey production should expect, “to feel like they’ve had an experience. The worst thing for me is to hear, ‘the costumes were amazing’ – you don’t go for the costumes, they’re an added bonus, they’re stick-on. If conversation has ended by the time you get on the tube home that’s a failure.”
Green says his Edinburgh Fringe programme, “is a diverse one. 4.48 Psychosis, we did that in London and it was nominated for an off-West End award so that was an obvious one. The Elephant Man has been sitting there for a while [Green co-wrote this with David Ledger]. Minotaur, Natalie Katsou directed and devised with the cast. Most of the text was lifted and transposed from her poetry apart from the narration. Nights at the Circus was brought to me, a suggestion by Sarah-Jane Moloney [with whom he co-wrote the play], and Divine Words, Steve Tiller [who directs the play] suggested that to me. I felt there was enough stuff there to keep that through-line stylistically with enough variation. Erpingham Camp is different, it’s definitely a Joe Orton farce. It is what it is: witty, fast-paced, with the darker Orton undertone.”
Green directed both of the plays he co-wrote but, “I’ve lacked any sense of preciousness. You’ve got to be open. The benefit of writing and directing is that you can see in pictures, and I think that when you write it you can see the shape more clearly. For me, the visual is the starting point. I think that’s where me and Hamish [Macdougan, who directed The Erpingham Camp] differ: Hamish starts with the text. I genuinely believe that if you entrust the actors to find their own blocking organically, move naturally, get off book, then you get the shape and can tweak and mould it to your own vision. It’s an unspoken collaboration.”
From the way Green talks about the team around him, he obviously has a ferocious respect for them. He says that his “grand design, if you will, is to – rather than kissing them goodbye and giving them some flimsy piece of paper as an alumni – keep them in the room. When we get stuff on the road and start touring, then those are the guys we’ll still employ. I’d love to get to a place where we don’t audition anymore and we just have this pool of talent to pull from who have worked with us, understand our language, and we can reinvest by re-employing them and paying them to do the work that they trained to do. It just makes logical sense to me. I guess the beast is bigger than a year’s experience. A number of them have picked up agents, a number of them are staying around to do our two year rep project, but in terms of what I want them to take away, I want them to realise there’s a home.”
This relationship between Green and his casts/production team absolutely reflects Fourth Monkey’s passion for the ensemble. If you want to audition for Fourth Monkey, “the fundamental thing is someone that’s going to be a good team player. There’s no point coming to us if you want to be stuck on a pedestal and be seen as some sort of star. Yes there are leads, yes there are character parts by definition, but everything we do is about the company. It’s about the strength of the unit and I believe in that profoundly. And I guess that’s why our branding has an eastern bent to it, because the influences we draw upon are very much ensemble based. That is a core thing: group trust. I used to do a lot of team sports when I was younger and I understand the strength of working in a team. One star does not make a good team or a good player. You know when they come through the door if they’re going to fit and I think 99 percent of people who apply to work with us, and audition for us, fit in a preemptive sense because I think they are different, and are drawn to us because of our difference.”
A year ago, Green was called a “revolutionary” by AYT, and was aiming to create new audiences with a visceral production style. A year on, they’ve already developed what I like to call Fourth Monkey disciples. “What’s nice here is were running into people who have seen us in London, and who are seeing us here; that’s nice, there’s a following. We’re running into people who are coming to see our work because it’s our work, not just running into it.” With six shows at the Fringe, there’s no excuse for missing Fourth Monkey. Best buy a ticket now, because at the rate this company is growing, soon the ticket prices will doubtlessly be soaring along with their success.
Image credit: Fourth Monkey