I recall attending a performance of Enron when it transferred to the West End from the Royal Court in 2010. Before the show, a lady in the row behind was almost screaming a glossary of terms printed in the programme out loud, because she felt it was necessary for everyone in her party to understand what each and every financial and accounting term listed meant, or they wouldn’t understand the narrative. In the end, every phrase unknown outside the financial services industry was explained during the show. Here, in a widely different context, the glossary of ‘monetary terms’, ‘drug terms’, Cockney rhyming slang and other phrases in The Monkey, are all explained as the show progresses: I didn’t even notice there was a glossary until after the show.
In some ways, The Monkey is a London show for a London audience. But it depicts a way of life unknown to many, whether they regularly attend theatre or not. This dark comedy is one of those shows that is hard-hitting enough to expose its audiences to the full range of human emotion; laughter and shock appear in the same scene on occasion, as Tel (Morgan Watkins) is often sinister and threatening, a stark contrast to the infinitely more civilised nature of the other three characters.
Tel is a most intriguing lead character, and a complex one at that. Quite how he commands so much authority whilst being an almost relentlessly abrasive figure was something I never fully understood. He bosses what he considers his ‘mates’ around, with what I can only assume is a combination of obsessive compulsive disorder and acute paranoia. Even the slightest hint of an objection from either Dal (Daniel Kendrick), Becks (Danielle Flett) or Al (George Whitehead) is met with the fervent anger of an evangelical preacher railing against the devil, and with plenty of swearing thrown in too. Tel is quite happy to dub his friend ‘Thick-Al’ but goes ballistic (yet again, prompting a noticeably loud sigh from a fellow audience member) when he hears about an alternative – and wittier – nickname for him. To put it another way, he can dish it out, but can’t take it.
The play takes as its theme what happens to a prisoner after they have completed their sentence and are released back into the community. Tel sounds like an onerous prison guard in his instructions to (amongst other things) sit in a certain place and dispose of clinical waste in a certain way – one wonders if his heart and mind are still detained at Her Majesty’s Pleasure even if he’s been set free. Was it the jail sentence that led him to behave in such an aggressive way? Dal in particular, seems confused and unhappy by the manner in which he is being spoken to. The others too express concerns. What the play also suggests is that either there is a lack of support in place for ex-offenders, or that support is out there, but not enough is being done to highlight it.
The set is well-designed. I was impressed, for instance, with how the door to a broken lift, when flipped around, served a double purpose as something entirely different in Al’s front room. There’s a slight poetic quality in the repetitiveness of the dialogue. The script could, in parts, be further developed – I think Becks is a rather underwritten part. Despite showing a different side of urban living to what is usually seen in the theatre, there are still aspects of the play relatable in some way to many: delusions of grandeur can take many forms. A strong first play from John Stanley, this is a thought-provoking and formidable production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Homecomings: The Monkey
by John Stanley
directed by Russell Bolam
Part of Synergy’s Homecomings- a festival of new plays by prisoners and ex-prisoners about getting out and going home.
Tel’s left Bermondsey behind and only robs the occasional drum now.He prefers dealing in moody clobber from Deptford.But he’s got a screw loose and word’s out he’s a soft touch. Thick-Al owes him a monkey and he has to revisit old hunting grounds to collect. John Stanley paints a darkly comic portrait of dishonourable thieves bound together by addiction.
Writer: John Stanley
Director: Russell Bolam
Assistant Director: Paul Cassidy
Stage Manager: Rike Berg
Assistant Stage Manager: Karl Smith
Designer: Katy McPhee
Lighting Designer: Rob Youngson
Sound Designer: Rebecca Smith
Costume Designer: Emmett DeMonterey
Casting: Nadine Rennie
Production Manager: Steve Wald
Booking to 18th March 2017