The world premiere of Torben Betts’ play Monogamy is set in a luxurious and fully functional kitchen, fit for a celebrity chef. This is lucky because the kitchen belongs to professional domestic goddess Caroline Mortimer, played by the Olivier Award winning Janie Dee.
Monogamy starts off as jovial could-be sitcom about your run-of-the-mill, dysfunctional, middle class family. Caroline is the Catholic, distracted mother and “darling of Middle England,” trying to keep up with her misunderstood and self-righteous son Leo (Jack Archer), who has recently returned from Cambridge, all while appeasing her fuddy-duddy, aged and oblivious husband, Mike (Patrick Ryecart). Their awkward interactions are only complicated by the presence of Caroline’s coked-up assistant Amanda (Genevieve Gaunt), the handyman Graeme (Jack Sandle) and his wife Sally (Charlie Brooks). For a while you feel as though you’re recording a laugh track but the play soon descends into something much darker and funnier than you first expect. Despite three of the six characters supposedly being teetotal, it’s a boozy production, with bottles of wine, beer, champagne and whiskey being opened and emptied readily.
You enjoy the gentle comedy, all the while waiting for the big juicy drama that the play’s title promises to arrive, but it doesn’t come in one fell swoop. It seeps in little by little, just as it does in real life. Reality is soon left behind though as chaos ensues. Betts’ play throws in some dark, state of the times comment, tackling student debt, disabilities benefit cuts, mental illness and, of course, fidelity. However, every time you think it has become a serious drama, Monogamy has you laughing again, whether it’s out of shock, outrage or genuine amusement.
Betts has written a script full of character with serious issues, each of whom is brought to life in a spectacular way by the cast. Archer is the textbook know-it-all graduate whose pretention doesn’t help him get his mother’s attention, while Ryecart plays the most perfectly infuriating bumbling banker come golfer. Gaunt’s character Amanda is particularly interesting because of the strange use of language Betts’ script demands of her. It’s baffling but entertaining trying to decipher what on earth she is talking about, as she makes no sense and total sense at the same time.
Designed by James Perkins, the stylish set gives this play its edge. Dee dominates the space, if she’s not on the stage then no one is. The thunderous transitions bringing her into the kitchen are effective thanks to Chris Withers and Max Pappenheim’s lighting and sound design. Dee potters around the kitchen like it’s her own, preparing real food throughout the show. You’re introduced to the kitchen as this perfect domestic space that everyone compliments, but by the end it has endured monumental carnage, as have the cast and all their poor costumes.
Monogamy is so much more than meets the eye. It’s a riot that, for however many twisted reasons, will leave you beaming from ear-to-ear.
Monogamy is playing at the Park Theatre until 7 July 2018
Photo: Helen Maybanks