Written by Joe Sellman-Leava and directed by Yaz Al- Shaater, Monster is an original and ambitious play which takes hold of its audience in the first lines, and does not lose its grip until lights are out.
The play is introduced as a story about ‘a girl and a boy’, but it defies the expectations that it creates. It is a show about what it is to be a boy or a man, and what that means for girls and women. It explores the uncharted grey area between the black and white conversations we have about masculinity. The play points out that no one is just one thing, and that we can never cite who we think we ‘are’ as an alibi or disclaimer.
Though inherently dark and sometimes disturbing viewing, the occasional knowing look or sarcastic aside keeps the play entertaining and watchable throughout. The friendly way in which the audience are addressed makes the later explorations of violence feel even more personal, giving the emotional punch at the end all the more impact.
Sellman-Leava takes on multiple characters within the play’s narrative. He is first and foremost a version of himself, (we are told that at least some parts of the story are true) but he also embodies the words of Shakespeare, Patrick Stewart and Mike Tyson during his immersion in the darkest parts of masculinity and violence. The writing is thoughtful and wildly creative, joining the words of all three men from their interviews and writing to create a convincing and timeless portrait of male violence.
He regularly switches between the three with slick, polished impressions that are based on famous interviews, plays and articles. Impressively, the complicated structure of the show never collapses into confusion. Though it requires concentration, it also commands it. The play retains just enough mystery and tension to remain intriguing without leaving audiences clueless. This is down to superb acting and exacting direction and pacing.
As well as deconstructing the archetypal fighting man, the play also undermines the trope of the Nice Guy, the man who is self-assured that because he is a feminist and not a fighter, he is not part of the problem. The play acknowledges that we are all influenced by and become what we consume, whether it is gender stereotypes fed to us by the media or by our own family.
Monster is a challenge for its audience, society at large, and itself. It not only rises to this challenge, but thrives in it.
Monster is playing at the Pleasance Courtyard as part of the Edinburgh Fringe until August 28.