Joy is three completely separate monologues, delivered by three completely detached men, afflicted by three completely different areas of life – love, job, the whole world – but which are connected by their unified pursuit of a little bit of joy. All three characters are men in a time of need; how they arrive at the point differs, ranging from the banal to the questionable. How they each are dealing with their situation similarly takes the audience on a bumpy ride through emotion, blind aggression to fully-fledged breakdown. As a company, Velvet Trumpet’s most defining and impressive feature is its ability to write darkly intimate comedies about desperation-dappled domesticity, situations that coax us in with their familiarity, chuckling with recognition, then slap us in the face with obscurity and the very individual underbelly of human nature.
The first piece, Toast, features the newly divorced Michael (played by Jon Cottrell), who has been cheated on and is forced to live with his brother. His bad luck seems to have unpicked the life around him, giving him the only too familiar dependence on the little pick-me-ups in life, in Michael’s case his love of toast. It helps to catalyse a change in Michael’s time of hardship as a new love looks to be on the horizon. The script is a cracking combination of sharp and witty, with a bit of silly thrown in. Cottrell is overtly playing for laughs which is cleverly used to drum up some integral audience participation, but is one-dimensional in other aspects. In between the bombardment of jokes I had no belief that he cared for his ex-wife or new beau which might have provided a foundation for making the well-crafted jokes even funnier in the flesh. His delivery was camply flippant, even in anger, and so there wasn’t enough of a character change to support what was on the page. Until, that is, believability waivers into insignificance at the real ridiculousness of the situation.
Thames Cop is the filling of the monologue sandwich, and it is a much meatier, more dynamic performance. Roger (Thomas Jones), a Thames Cop, has been relegated to teaching primary school kids the regulations of policing the waterways. Regulations that Roger takes that bit too seriously. He is spitting with aggression, a husky cockney that is seemingly unaware of the necessity to tone down when talking to children. The character is also self-important to the point of absurdity accompanied only by the chief of all self-important props: the flipchart. A flipchart on which he writes the definitive list of the crimes of the Thames: fishing, tourists, suffocating, sex and dogs. As Roger’s own sordid and ambiguously polluted episode is brought to light, the characteristic darkness of Jones and Ribnikov’s comedic writing is well and truly at the forefront.
All Change, All Change has the most finality in its emotional pay-off and was by far the most perfectly balanced monologue of the evening. Phil (Simon Grujich) spends his days monotonously navigating the dark warrens of the Bakerloo line. Self-christened ‘mole man’, his life is dedicated to the solitude of driving that tube train, facilitating thousands of people a day without a single one of them acknowledging his existence and he is angry about it, suicidally angry. He calculates and quantifies every aspect of his life over his white-sliced sandwiches and bottles of Lilt, as he journeys through the same stations each with their inherent reminders of the outside world. His cynicism for which is completely irreproachable and that is where the comedy is derived, second guessing and self-deprecation played with absolute sincerity.
Throughout Joy one thing that is pretty damn clear is that the writing is the star. It is simultaneously warm, dark, comedic, intimate and insightful. You get the sense that you’re noseying into the unknowable, individual stories that could belong to anyone. I wanted to learn more about all three of the characters as though they were all episodes of a series that I can go back and learn more from next week,
Joy is playing at Etcetera Theatre until 22 February. For more information and tickets, see the Etcetera Theatre website.