Synergy theatre project, along with Theatre503, bring us Homecomings, a festival of new plays by prisoners and ex-prisoners about getting out and going home.
The Monkey, John Stanley’s first play, follows Bermondsey boy Tel (Morgan Watkins) as he returns to his old haunts to tie up a few loose ends. As Tel navigates Deptford, he comes across old friends including Bex (Danielle Flett) and Dal (Daniel Kendrick) that he used to rob drums with. Thick-Al (George Whitehead) owes him a monkey (£500), and Tel wants it back.
The Monkey is a dark comedy about friends bound together by crime and addiction, and Stanley’s play ultimately paints a portrait of a side of London, and its people, that is rarely seen on stage or screen.
Tel is hilarious, and a character that possesses traits many Londoners might recognise in men they’ve known. After falling off a ladder and developing what appears to be some sort of psychological episode, he wades around barely controlling his bouts of violent rage and earns himself the nickname Goose (screw loose). He is the perfect anti-hero, and Watkins brings to him a likeable quality. He is, for all intents and purposes, a nasty bastard, but he’s also funny, interesting, and unpredictable. Even as he commits acts of extreme violence, we can’t help but enjoy him a little bit, and even dare to utter a laugh at his outright ridiculousness.
Directed by Russell Bolan, the play is authentically interwoven with a lot of cockney rhyming slang. Every now and then, Tel drops one in which he happily admits he’s made up – for example, ‘ugly twat = this and that’. Not sure why that one hasn’t caught on, but every one of his made-up phrases conjures up a belly laugh and illustrates Stanley’s talent at writing great gags.
The cast of four are brilliant, and seem relatively ‘normal’ due to Tel’s drug-fuelled and erratic behaviour; all have nailed the South London accent. Flett is vulnerable but simultaneously strong as Bex, the object of Tel’s unwanted affection; and Whitehead is gormless but also harmless as Thicko, a kid that lives off junk food and heroin, and owes Tel money. Together with Kendrick as Dal, their characters make up a crew that emulate real people, with an authenticity that indicates they are each a collage of people the writer may have once known.
The Monkey echoes a reality that so many are familiar with. It is also so gratifying to see working class stories told by working class people on the stage. At most, it will provide a window into a world within London you’ve not experienced before, or reflect on people or times you may have known. At the very least, it will make you fancy a Jaffa cake.
Homecomings: The Monkey is playing at Theatre503 until 18 March.
Photo by Simon Annand