This series of short monologues, under the banner title Response – six speeches in all, without an interval – seemed to me to take personal identity as its theme. It remains unclear what Response is supposed to be a response to, given the very broad range of topics and situations introduced, and like many quick-fire short play events of this nature, it was not always immediately clear who was being directly addressed. Part of the fun was in establishing whether ‘you’ meant the audience itself, or a third party ‘you’ to be deduced from the script? For everything relies on the scripts in all of these monologues, with not a single prop between the performers. This is performance art stripped back to bare essentials in a stand and deliver approach.
Do You Know What A Person Is? by Benjamin Victor sees Rupert (Mohammed Mansaray) explore all sorts of meanings of the term ‘person’, some of which much of the audience found comical. It does get rather pedantic, however, in its exploration of the different definitions as apparently cited in the Oxford English Dictionary. It does, at least, start relatively soft and builds to a crescendo. I would have liked to have heard what Rupert thinks about what sort of a person he is himself, or what sort of a person the person he is talking to might be. That is, if ‘person’ is the right word. As it is, it all sounds a tad too academic, and although there’s a lovely description of a particular train journey, it is really about a “beautiful girl” he exchanged looks with but has not seen before or since.
Keeping Up Appearances by Libby Rodliffe looks at the snobbery attached to being on the ‘wrong’ side of the Essex/Suffolk border. Until she was eight years of age, Elisa Carroll (the playwright performs her own monologue) believed she lived in Suffolk, as that is what she was told, even writing a letter to the then Labour Party leader, Tony Blair, with a Suffolk return address. To discover that she was, in fact, an Essex girl made her feel she was living a lie. It was the implications the lie brought on that affected Elisa more than the lie itself. What else had her mother Ann lied to her about? Elisa is at least able to say she is ‘fine’ now, and the monologue gives closure to something that had clearly been bugging her into adulthood. Quite an emotional performance, with smatterings of playground talk that reminded the character that school days, for her, weren’t the best days.
All Things Bright and Beautiful by Catherine Lord immediately reminded me of a comedy sketch by Stewart Lee some years ago. He takes the hymn ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ to shreds, asserting that anything that comes after the first verse is utterly superfluous unless there’s some alternative definition of ‘all’ that the Church has assumed. Ethel Birtwistle (Amy Parker) treats the audience to the first verse only in any event, in a compelling monologue that references New Year’s Day 1828. The connections between then and the present day, however, are there, if implied – she imagines a world, a century later, even more, totally free from slavery. If only she knew. A remarkably plausible scenario is set up, as well as a moral dilemma – speaking out against something she has reason to believe is improper could cost her and her family their livelihoods. And so all things aren’t bright and beautiful after all.
Imogen by Lotte Ruth Johnson was perhaps the most compelling of the monologues. Charlie (Leo Watson-Roberts) is, in a nutshell, suffering symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, partly through having lost a number of colleagues whilst in the Armed Forces on active service when an improvised explosive device – ‘IED’ to those in the know – went off within close proximity to where they were. There’s mention of programmes to assist with rehabilitation, and a detailed outline of what his relationship with this ‘Imogen’ is like. He is an unreliable narrator, however, and he knows it. He stops himself, interrupts himself, abruptly stops himself completely at a seemingly random point, unable or unwilling to continue. Talk about a cliffhanger.
The Fire by Jodi E Burgess sees a young character (Matt Lynch) attempt to consider the meaning of love. Having not experienced what it is to be in a meaningful relationship yet, he only sees deep kissing as a form of vacuuming, or perhaps an exchange of microbes. The intellectual understanding is quite phenomenal, however, particularly when the monologue moves away from trying to understand the concept of being in love to instead examining different interpretations of “one person doing one thing”. There’s a palpable frustration with him not having certain personal qualities he believes to be commonly found in society at large, and while it’s all very well saying individuality should be celebrated, few if any seem to want to celebrate his. Some excellent food for thought here.
Walking Away by Leila Ruban has moments of heightened emotion, but this cry for help borders on melodrama. A single mother (Stephanie Da Silva) blames the absent father of their child for the challenges she must face daily. But it is as though the man is being held responsible for everything bad and negative, irrespective of whether it could be reasonably determined that he even had any influence over certain matters. But the ‘you’ in this monologue is at least crystal clear from the start. I wasn’t entirely convinced by the storyline, however: the character was played with such defiance and self-confidence. It was surprising to me that she simply didn’t give the man the proverbial middle finger and declare that she was doing okay, thank you, and didn’t want or need assistance from him.
As ever with a series of monologues of this nature, stories are told from one perspective only, and it would have been more interesting to have had some consideration of a different point of view. There are, as it were, two sides of the same coin. As it is, this was a brief but thoughtful evening. This was a series of likeable, compelling and deeply personal stories, each of which could be expanded to tell a more comprehensive narrative.
Do You Know What a Person Is? – by Benjamin Victor
Performed by Mohammed Mansaray
The Fire – by Jodi E Burgess
Performed by Matt Lynch
All Things Bright and Beautiful – by Catherine Lord
Performed by Amy Parker
Keeping Up Appearances – by Libby Rodliffe
Performed by Libby Rodliffe
Imogen – by Lotte Ruth Johnson
Performed by Leo Watson-Roberts
Walking Away – by Leila Ruban
Performed by Stephanie Da Silva
AN EVENING OF MONOLOGUES
PRESENTED BY BLINK. THEATRE
Directed by Lotte Ruth Johnson
Produced by Benjamin Victor
16th April 2017