I caught A Bad Case of the Mondays at the worst, and therefore the best time. Not only was it taking place on that most publicly hated of weekdays, this was the first Monday of the New Year, therefore doubly cursed, with the world in general and Finsbury Park in particular struggling doggedly back to work from the ragged ends of the solstice.
No such gloom in this programme of seven short plays by as many writers, staged in the studio theatre perched at the top of the shiny new Park Theatre like a business penthouse. No, gloom would be too bland a term. What we have here, and will continue to have every Monday evening through to the end of January, is a little set of, what, tableaux, glimpses, eaves-dropping on lives in various states of tenderness, commitment and violent despair.
Their production is the work of Sarah Pitard’s fledgling Paradigm Company, whose manifesto promises the use of “language, silence and subtext in order to create intense dramatic action.” Most of the time it is as good as its word, with conflicted flatmates, put-upon workers, would-be partners and more all doing their best with the generally challenging lot of their lives, many in danger of becoming stranded on what one of them describes as “the fantasy island sinking under the weight of your daydreams” or else turning into “willing martyrs to the noble cause of corporate capitalism.”
Bleak? Yes, naturally, in parts, but also redeemed either by the clarity of these “victims’ ” perceptions or else by the comedy of their blindness. Michael Ross’s Work Makes You Free, with its deliberate echo of Auschwitz’s awful welcome, Arbeit Macht Frei, gives us the wry character of Willow, the “emerging theatre practitioner,” welcomed knowingly by a full audience. In B. Spencer Evoy’s Lunch Break we have a pair of flatmates whose lives decline with apparent inevitability from the moral discussion of cat food into the realms of theft and violence.
Toast or Cereal by Caro Dixey does rather more than it says on the packet:
Gary: You don’t want muesli.
Frankie: I don’t know. I’ve always loved muesli.
Gary: But you’re not in love with it.
And so on. One of the darkest items is Sarah Pitard’s A Valued Employee, in which a hot-tempered worker and cold-hearted employer are locked in a conflict whose ending is as emotionally plausible as it is factually, or statistically, unlikely.
Thank Crunchie It’s Not Friday (Giles Morris) is full of surreal chat about the respective merits of the days of the week, with some glorious and yes, Kafkaesque riffing on the need for a copy of Yellow Pages from the year of your birth to show why you’re here.
Katherine Rodden’s The Lost Case of the Mondays takes us up the far western reaches of the Piccadilly Line. The destination is Ickenham, not least for the comic value of the name, and the business is indeed the black farce of a stolen case and a robber trying to find out the combination of the lock.
Finally, The Lionel Blair Sex Years by Serena Haywod offers us the spectacle of two women in apparent competition, with one of them, Sam wearing a Superman outfit as if to emphasise the point. The other one, Charlie, reflecting on her experience of the long-term relationship, says: “It’s like a job. It freaks me out.” “So pretend,” says Sam. “Like work?” Charlie replies.
And there you have it. In a Monday world, even love has to conform to industrial practise. These two, and all the other fifteen characters in this compressed cycle, do have six other days in their weeks, like the rest of us. It’s just that we don’t catch them there, and it’s impossible to say exactly what we would find if we did. This is both the self-imposed limitation of Paradigm’s evening, and its resulting success. Stirling contributions by all staff.
Review by Alan Franks
In The Morris Space at Park Theatre
Clifton Terrace, London, N4 3JP
6th, 13th, 20th, 27th January at 7.45pm
Box Office: www.parktheatre.co.uk
Telephone: 020 7860 6876 (between 12pm and 6pm)
In person, between 8am and 5pm daily, except Mondays
Sunday 12th January 2014