Lulu Raczka’s brilliant double monologue Grey Man, playing at Theatre503 this week, was developed out of a one-hander first performed as part of the Shakespeare In Shoreditch festival in April. It has progressed into a piece featuring two actors that play older and younger versions of Maya, and perform the same monologue in turn. Their performances of this monologue tell two different stories about the same memories, and though their words are the same, the unaddressed context of time passing leaves the audience to build in their own interpretation of the wider story, which the play obscures.
We might interpret an unseen psychosis in the play, or maybe an extreme ritualisation of the act of remembering – but this desire in the audience to to remember, piece together and to interpret resonates precisely with the theme of the play. Grey Man explores the telling of stories, and all the millions of ways they can be heard and understood. Maya grew up listening to her sister tell scary stories to her friends through the wall between their bedrooms. She loves telling them, and she’s very good at it. Maya remembers it all and uses the stories to piece together a narrative of her sister’s life, which is, by extension, the story of her alienation and of Maya’s grief. Her sister’s fascination with all things supernatural and unsettling is recognisable as the same morbid streak in all of us – it is the instinct that makes us want to sit in this theatre and hear these ghost stories. But this play movingly presents the difference between seeking the thrill of fear, and letting fear pervade our lives.
Jasmine Blackborrow, who played the character of Maya in its earlier run, has an impressive vocal range and a great physical energy that perfectly suits Grey Man it in its form as a one-hander. It allows her to be simultaneously only one character and yet all of them. It seems a risk, therefore, to divide Maya’s character up into two and potentially limit the extent to which she could be master storyteller in this precisely constructed piece about story-telling. However, as a two-woman show, this play asks much bigger questions about mental health and family relationships, and it does this with powerful simplicity. The strength of acting by both Blackborrow and Kristin Hutchinson supports such a reading of the play, as the precision of their monologues gives the audience room to interpret a lot from where their monologues do and do not diverge in tone.
In the two halves of the play, the actors interact with the simple, rough set very differently to great effect. The lighting design effectively denotes a loose but distant passing of time. I did feel, however, that the sound production would have been better if it was pared back in the same way. As a result of its more overt creation of an ominous tone, the ambiguous sense of mystery within the script is obscured at times. This is noticeable particularly at the end of the play, where the sound design becomes suddenly very apparent, and laid on too thickly with a tone that is already discernible in the performance.
In general, the cleverness of Grey Man’s writing, acting and staging make it the kind of stimulating play you would expect to see at Theatre503. I particularly enjoyed the Beckettian quality of the play – its seamless blending of gloomy obscurity and humour with a subtext that is much more troubling. More than this, its appeal comes from the challenge it brings to the audience. It is a play that needs us to think about it carefully, and use our own story telling instincts in order to make it work so well as a narrative.
Grey Man is playing at Theatre503 until 25 June. For more information and tickets, see the Theatre 503 website. Photo: