Reset the Stage does what it says on the tin: dismantling traditional structures of theatre to pave way for the new. The Mono Box company, whose workshops and training have nurtured UK artists for the last eight years, brings together seven young writers (maatin, Charles Entsie, Kiran Benawra, Sid Sagar, Roberta Livingston, Vivian Xie, and Dipo Baruwa-Etti) to produce seven narratively disparate but conceptually cogent monologues. The end result? A seventy minute production that challenges the form whilst reminding me of all the reasons I love and miss theatre.
From Sharia’s Law by maatin through to The Madness by Baruwa-Etti, we are treated to truly human stories, without being burdened by the narrative bloat that often follows full-length plays. Entie’s Daniel, set entirely in a toilet cubicle, is able to trace the life of one man, his triumphs and his anxieties, all in eight minutes. In what could take three hours, Livingston’s Joy briskly dances the audience through a night out of sex, insecurity, and self discovery. One might fear this compilation of short pieces could become a tenuously connected rolodex of TikTok videos, but these well-paced monologues are concretely held together by Reset’s tactful structuring.
By placing thematically and tonally different pieces, like Screams and Joy, at polar points of the production, the team builds an interesting inter-textual narrative. From afar, these two pieces are stylistically dissimilar to the point of being jarring. Nonetheless, they work wonderfully within the whole. Not just work, but the production seems to benefit from this poetic conflict. A conversation with itself. If you don’t believe me, pay attention to similarities between the first and final pieces in the production.
Part of this successful contrast comes from Reset’s overwhelming support for difference within theatre. Why should the mode of storytelling be uniform when the inhabitants of theatre are not? Indeed, the diversity on display from the cast is immensely refreshing. It’s clear The Mono Box always understood the assignment, for the stage truly had been reset. Black, and brown, and white, and female, and queer. From Shane Zaza in Sharia’s Law to Isabella Laughland in Cynthia, the screen oozes talent. Particular commendation goes to Danny Kirrane who took the production’s least interesting script (‘Rush’) and ran with it. His emotions were raw and his performance engaging … I almost lost myself in the story. My concern with Rush was that it textually failed to achieve what every other piece had: originality and complexity.
Its faults make clear what works about the greater production. Unlike Rush, pieces like Sharia’s Law, Joy, and The Madness truly utilise the creative possibilities provided by the camera. Just by glimpsing at the trailer, you can see how much work Apatan Productions put into making Reset visually captivating. The editing, camera work, and lighting become a part of the storytelling — something I’ve not truly seen in theatre yet. Whilst retaining the feeling of “theatre”, Reset has co-opted the tools of cinema to make something truly original. For me, Reset the Stage has done for ‘Theatre’ what Bo Burnham’s ‘Inside’ has done for comedy specials: gotten us to rethink how they fundamentally work. Once again, resetting the stage.
In such trying times as these, producers Joan Iyiola (co-founder of Mono Box) and Alison Holder deserve a lot of praise for creating a true masterclass in theatre making. We may be sitting in our living rooms, bedrooms, or bathrooms (I don’t judge) but this was certainly theatre. Whilst nothing will beat the distraction free environment of a playhouse, if you can overcome the occasional buffering and keep your phones out of the room then you’re in for a treat.
Reset the Stage is available to watch again on Thursday 1 July at 7.30pm until 3 July. For more information and tickets, see The Mono Box online.