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Monster by Abigail Hood at Park Theatre

I’ll never forgive you,” Rebecca Hastie (Emma Keele) declares, calmly but emphatically, to Kayleigh Grey (Abigail Hood). Added to this, Hastie insists it’s a good thing that Grey feels guilt and shame over tragic events in 2006 – the conversation in question taking place in February 2020. Hastie has decided, having effectively stalked Grey previously, leaving Grey afraid to leave her hotel room, whether accompanied by her partner John Parker (Kevin Tomlinson) or not, to confront Grey while she stands over an open grave. Grey’s mother, Hazel (Gillian Kirkpatrick) hasn’t even been buried yet.

Monster - credit Ben Wilkin.
Monster – credit Ben Wilkin.

There are, of course, two sides to every story. The flip side is that Grey shouldn’t even be in the area because it is a breach of her licence. For the uninitiated in prison matters, such as me, being ‘on licence’ is actually quite common, where prisoners are released at the halfway point of their sentence, but must stick to certain conditions for the remainder, with the possibility of being returned to prison if any of the conditions are breached. She also did what she did to be given a custodial sentence in the first place – and it’s dramatized rather than recollected, so this isn’t, at least at that moment, a show for the fainthearted.

It’s odd, to me, that Hastie would want anything at all to do with Grey, apart from pick up a heavy object and drop it on her head, let alone spot her, take a photo of her, and then follow her back to her hotel, remaining outside long enough for the hotel’s management to raise suspicions. But then, intense feelings that lead to irrational behaviour seem to be a running theme in this play, which subtly suggests there is less that separates opposing sides than there might appear at face value.

In the first half, Grey and her school friend Zoe Douglas (Caitlin Fielding) find themselves talking to Hastie out of school, both literally and figuratively. In the second, completing the set of on-stage characters is Hastie’s ex-husband Steve (Kevin Wathen), who doesn’t have a huge amount to do, although I found it difficult not to sympathise with him as he tries to converse with the implacable teacher, who isn’t entirely blameless, having mixed the personal with the professional and paid the price for it.

The script makes a credible attempt at portraying characters as complex humans rather than clear-cut protagonists and antagonists for dramatic purposes. Well, mostly: John Parker oozes with such clichéd sentimentality I found myself rooting for Grey when she tells him, tactfully, that he might be better off pursuing a relationship with someone else. And overall, there wasn’t quite as much shouting and trading of personal insults as there would have been had this been a soap opera.

Grey herself offers no excuses for what happened in the past, even if other people, and the narrative, do. She was a youngster from an unstable background with a mother who made a living as a sex worker but nonetheless practised religion, and it is left to the audience to determine whether any of that were factors in her committing a heinous crime.

This play needs tightening – I found it difficult to maintain interest in the first half, which on paper was the same length as the second but felt considerably longer. That said, the idea that some people are able to move on from a critical incident, whilst others never seem to recover, is an intriguing one, and the play’s conclusion suggests there are childhood fantasies that some continue to hold on to as a form of escapism well into adulthood. Time is a healer, as Eva Cassidy once sang. But for the characters in this play, that’s not always true.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Despite being warned to keep away, teacher Miss Hastie is inexplicably drawn into the two girls’ orbit of chaos. When Kayleigh’s mother attempts to keep her daughter under her manipulative spell, the outcome is far worse than anyone could have ever anticipated.

With a cast of six, this thrilling contemporary play explores the need for love and the powerful forces at play behind random acts of violence. How much control do we have over who we are and what we become? Does the past define our future? Can we ever forget who we once were, escape our past mistakes and start again? Or are we doomed to be haunted, hounded and hunted forever?

Veritas Theatre Company and Kepow in association with Park Theatre present the World Premiere of
By Abigail Hood
Directed by Kevin Tomlinson

Plays: 27 Jul – 20 Aug 2022

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1 thought on “Monster by Abigail Hood at Park Theatre”

  1. I am dismayed at the half hearted reception by our critics. Given the fact that many quite pointless musicals get their rave reviews as a matter of course, it is baffling to me that a play such as this is receiving such overzealous and surprisingly petty criticism.
    It not only belies the audience’s enthusiastic response but potentially denies future theatre goers the privilege of experiencing it. Tragic!
    To my mind this is theatre at it’s best: Relevant, courageous and committed, and absolutely riveting from start to finish.
    Go to see it, you will not be disappointed!

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