Monorogue is quite a unique concept, insofar as the different writers and performers come up with a play that is a coherent whole, such that the complete production is greater than the sum of its parts. Collaboration is common in theatre, of course, as it is in other industries, but it is quite rare to encounter something that has such a seamless consistency given the number of writers and actors involved. This edition of Monorogue takes as its theme The Morning After – specifically, the morning after the 14th of February, in the setting of a ‘love clinic’.
I thought, momentarily, The Day Before (or, to borrow a famous song title from a famous musical, One Day More) might have been a better theme, with people coming in just before St Valentine’s Day in a panic as to what to do. To consider the aftermath of events, on second thoughts, allows the audience to find out what has already happened, without the suspense of not knowing what may or may not have been – or otherwise having to guess.
There’s little if any, conventionality going on: why would there be? What sort of person would need the services of The Love Doctor (Kim Hardy) irrespective of the time of year? Presumably, this is not the sort of clinic available on the NHS, though I would have thought the service charges for consultations are relatively nominal, particularly as the audience assumes the role of university students sat in a lecture theatre doing a course in Amorology. Patients, for want of a better word, are therefore telling all and sundry to, well, all and sundry.
A research assistant, Aphrodite (Geraldine Brennan), invites patients, one by one, to take a seat in the consultation chair. What follows is, somewhat inevitably, a lot of talking heads, a lot of description, and a lot of angst. The patients were clearly briefed that they would be talking to a large audience – there were tentative feelings of apprehension on occasion but none of them were nearly as unsure of themselves or reticent about public speaking as would ordinarily be expected. Then again, as I say, one would have to be a certain type of person in the first place to even be sat there.
Clive Turner (Michael Luke Walsh) has the sort of curtain haircut that was prevalent in the Nineties, and although mild-mannered and well-intentioned, isn’t very streetwise. Encouraged previously by the clinic to find an activity that involves meeting more people, he has joined the local Neighbourhood Watch scheme, who later tell him his services are surplus to requirements after he makes advances towards a neighbour whose incomings and outgoings have been too meticulously observed. Walsh’s narrative has a dark sense of humour, but the consequences of Turner’s conduct, however innocent his motives may have been, make for a sinister twist to the storyline.
The ubiquity of the mobile telephone is explored in more than one monologue. Lorna Davis (Victoria Claringbold) doesn’t understand why her calls aren’t being returned by the person she considers to be her boyfriend – in her case, a letter from the said man’s lawyer isn’t a strong enough hint. Toby Hagerman (John Jesper), meanwhile, hasn’t had the usual near-immediate response to a text sent to his girlfriend, and goes into panic mode, wondering if he has caused offence by overuse of ‘emoticons’, or if something serious has happened. He finally gets a response (the girlfriend is at work, so her ability to respond to personal texts is rather limited), and he texts back so quickly that the autocorrect function leads to a devastating (for him) and hilarious (for the audience) mistake.
There’s also the Sister (Angela Harvey), who is dressed in a nun’s habit but is married – this does eventually make sense in the course of the narrative. A lifetime commitment to re-enact a scene from a motion picture on St Valentine’s Day, a different one each year, is a custom this lady would rather didn’t happen anymore. The recounted re-enactments get increasingly ridiculous. By the time the patient gets around to talking about 14th February 1998, “Titanic year”, she mentions a ferry to the Isle of Wight. (The husband presumably stood at the front, shouting “I’m the king of the world!”).
The patients keep coming, and so do the laughs. Aphrodite, who doesn’t actually go by that name – but I will keep faith with what’s listed in the show’s programme – tells her own stories of what it has been like to conduct ‘research’ for the love clinic. It is unpleasant, to say the least, and the Love Doctor is shown up to be a less than exemplary medical professional. There were, as tends to be the case with shows with characters as varied as these, one or two patient stories that I found neither interesting nor amusing. Overall, however, the show doesn’t feel rushed or too intense, which given the amount of ground covered in such a single act, is impressive.
Romanticist or sceptic, whatever your stance on St Valentine’s Day, this is comedy worth seeing.
Review by Chris Omaweng
The Love Doctor’s clinic is always over-run on February 15, with sad cases hoping to heal the wounds of the night before – if they can get past receptionist Aphrodite. As things get acute and critical, the Monorogue crew (“comedy gold”: Theatre Weekly) dissects the patients’ woes in its latest new writing show.
Booking to 14th February 2018
Hen & Chickens Theatre
109 St Paul’s Road
London N1 2NA