Playing the past-it diva, or the actor who thinks she’s good but is unjustifiably unrecognised, delighting in regaling her invisible audience with all the great roles she’s played, is a stock-in-trade for one-person shows – I’ve seen a few.
It’s a soft meta-theatrical device that is a kind of default position that aspiring actors seem to treat as an obligatory rite of passage, a Norma Desmondesque derivative that, frankly, has very little meat left on the bone.
I was a little dismayed therefore to find the set for the awkwardly titled Mouths In A Glass consists of a dressing-room table replete with make-up, good-luck charms and books about Stanislavsky. So rather than a series of quirky, interesting and well-observed stand-alone monologues we keep getting taken back to that dressing room, that care-worn actor, those well-trodden reminiscence boards and that obsessive harking back to Shakespearian characters wot once she played.
For me it became an itch I was unable to scratch and when an annoying little dresser (director Julia Faulkner – dressers are always annoying) gets up each time Failed-Diva emerges to provide an appropriate costume for the next turn then I found myself constantly looking back in mild irritation. So, to be scrupulously accurate, rather than a one-person show this is, in fact, a one-and-a-bit-person show.
Sophie Dora-Hall, who is writer and performer, starts strongly with a technically accomplished rendition of a Black-Sabbath-T-shirt-clad Polish immigrant, working in the NHS, who has a thing about sausages: how ‘now’ is that eclectic combination! The script, though, soon deteriorates into a kind of Carry On Up the Vistula with mandatory sausage innuendo tested to destruction. After that, we meet Failed-Diva for the first of seven interludes and the show never reclaims the impact of its opening two minutes.
Dora-Hall is a skilled performer. She doesn’t need to be inter-cutting mini-scenes depicting a past-it luvvie and she doesn’t need to dress for the occasion as each new monologue character appears. The dressing up becomes a kind of unintentional alienation technique which prevents the audience from empathising with the diverse characters she is creating. I didn’t warm to any of them. But neither did I dislike them particularly. They became neutralised by the constant genuflection to the misunderstood thespian.
Other characters include a doll, a housewife and the spouse of a cross-dresser. This last is the longest piece and the most dramatically substantial monologue as Dora-Hall affords herself more time to build and develop character. But it’s let down by gratuitous explicit sexual references that have nothing to do with the scenario – a fascinating and more original scenario – that is being depicted: the Vagina Monologues have a lot to answer for.
There is also a Russian hairdresser. I thought she was Russian because like the Polish Sausage fancier she had an excellent (in this case, the way I heard it, Russian) accent. Turns out she is German. But unlike any hairdressers I know she remains seated instead of busying herself by actively clipping and crimping and waxing and shaving. This is a good opportunity to get up from the chair that Dora-Hall seems mostly rooted to with her other characters but director Faulkner obviously doesn’t see it this way preferring instead to play it with ominous undertones from a sedentary position – sinister lighting and sound courtesy of Ella Dixon. I got that she’s German rather than Russian when said hairdresser depicts her client jumping up from the chair and shouting “Nein!” a couple of times.
There is no doubt that Dora-Hall is a very strong performer. And there is no doubt that her patchy script can be developed into an engaging and original piece – which is her intention according to the programme notes. My suggestion: ditch the diva. Get rid of all the costume changes (and the annoying dresser) which are superfluous props to hide behind and just perform on raw talent and instinct. Flit from one character to the next with no more than a lighting change – if that – and then you will have a much more direct route to tapping into that elusive audience empathy. I would also re-think the title.
Review by Peter Yates
Dora, Actress with a Capital A, exhibits her menagerie of madcap characters in this series of comedy monologues.
Written and performed by Sophie Dora-Hall, Mouths In A Glass is a colourful and at times absurd look into the minds and mouths of a variety of women including a doll disgruntled at her treatment, a fragile housewife stuck in the wrong era, a German hairdresser with an unexpected client, a frustrated psycho-therapist and a Polish woman searching for sausage. Full of one liners, darkly humorous anecdotes and led by a slightly off-kilter performer…
Having started as a mini web series, Mouths In A Glass Monologues returns to The Hope after a successful stage debut in 2016.
mouths in a glass
writer & performer: SOPHIE DORA-HALL / director: JULIA FAULKNER
21 – 25 Feb 2017