Monologues are a risky business in theatre. Not least of all for the performer who, without the cushioned padding of their fellow entourage, bear their naked soul to potential rejection from a disengaged or apathetic audience. And yet, in certain situations, who could blame the audience? An hour and a half of over-acted, conceited and proselytising tripe, guzzling metaphors like its life depends on it. In short, it’s a two-way recipe for disaster.
Imagine, then, a play entirely comprised of monologues. Eight to be precise. The potential for theatrical drudgery is palpable. Luckily for To&Fro Theatre’s production of Ella Hickson’s Eight, clever writing and scintillating performances destroy any inherent obstacles to it being anything other than a thoroughly enjoyable and engaging piece. Directed by Imogen Hudson-Clayton and Annabel Morley, Eight is both funny and thought-provoking in equal and refreshing measure.
The eight people we encounter in the play establish an interesting balance between out-and-out satire, whilst also retaining an air of relatability. Take, for example, Miles, a young and spunky banker, fuelled by his father’s sense of ambition and an avaricious glint in his eye. Having climbed through the ranks at JP Morgan at break-neck speed, he is relocated from his home town of Washington to London where, one July morning on his way to work, his bus is targeted by the 7/7 bombers. Though coming out of it alive, the emergency services assume he has died when being unable to find the body, leaving him in the unique position of being unwittingly struck from the record.
He begins to plummet into debauchery, sleeping with countless women, snorting cocaine and staying in the best hotels – a celebration of his new found freedom and detachment from the world at large. Though in some ways an unimaginable scenario, Ray Strasser-King’s incredibly committed and impassioned performance drags it into a realm of reality, entertainingly asking you what you would do in this incredible situation.
Perhaps less believable, though in no way less entertaining, is Amy Mallet’s brilliant performance as Millie, a socially conservative prostitute for the bourgeois man – less ‘woman of the night’ than woman of the right. Her eccentric rants about the evils of feminism, progressive social politics and her nostalgic lamentations for “traditional values” are a cavalcade of tongue-in-cheek fun, keeping you laughing and hoping that characters like this don’t exist in the real world. Jump then to Calum Speed’s stirring performance as former soldier Danny, whose harrowing wartime experiences have led to necrophilic appetites, and you have an idea of the incredible range that this play both offers and capably handles.
With flawless performances, solid direction and wildly diverting material to play with, Eight is a monologue-based play to be enjoyed by all. I find little to fault it with.
Eight played at the White Bear Theatre until 29 July. For more information see the White Bear Theatre website. Photo: Jennifer Evans.