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Monolog (Susan Elkin reviews)

Monologues, as Chickenshed’s Artistic Director Lou Stein, remarks in the programme, are having a bit of an innings. This programme presents work by Alan Bennett, Diane Samuels followed by two out of eight shorter pieces by emerging writers. What you get exactly depends on which performance you attend.

On the night I was there the first half belonged to Belinda McGuirk. She plays Lesley, an actress in Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads and then Diane Samuels recalling her childhood youth and upbringing – McGuirk alternates this latter role with a much younger actress which, I gather, completely changes the style and message of the piece.

As Lesley, McGuirk is wistful, self absorbed, earnest and totally unable to see herself as others do. She also plays it with a slight whine in the voice which makes it clear just how irritating she would have been to the porn film makers she has unknowingly involved herself with. Most chilling of all is that Bennett wrote this piece in 1988 and we laugh at the number of men Lesley finds herself in bed with before finishing up with the director. That’s how it was. Bennett is as truthful as he is acerbic – always. Hearing this 30 years later, in the hands of a strong actor, and you think of Weinstein and others and it’s horrifying rather than amusing.

As Diane Samuel, McGuirk hands out mini banners to the audience. Each bears a title relating to some aspect of Samuel’s autobiographical fragments upon which this piece is based. We are then invited to hold them up and she picks them one by one – thus the exact progress of the monologue is, to an extent, audience controlled. We hear about how the young Samuel had to load the dishwasher, the inspiring English teacher who enjoyed reading her work, public demotion from a position of responsibility at school, the time the family thought about emigrating to Australia and much more. McGuirk is warm, thoughtful and very convincing in this role. The whole of the first half is very adeptly directed by Lou Stein.

Then came Walls Like Paper by Rachel Yates. Directed by Ashley Driver Ingrid Cannon, dressed in a scarlet dressing gown, presents an elderly lady more or less confined to her East End flat with only the shipping forecast for company. Once she rebelled and we hear how. It’s moving and totally believable

Finally, on the night I attended, we ended the evening with Cerys Lambert as a new mother in Barbara Bakhurst’s The Creature in the Dark. Searingly powerful writing and highly naturalistic acting made post natal despair real. I well remember that feeling that things are never going to get any better and that you will never be able to cope. And yet you do … eventually. Directed by Rachel Yates, Lambert is fragile but strong, warm but angry. It’s a very delicate performance.

Monolog (the American spelling in the title is a reference to Lou Stein’s nationality) is an engaging and intelligent evening’s theatre.

 First published by Sardines:
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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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