This is a review of monologues 1 – 5 in a series of 15
Way back in early April, Philip Ridley’s play The Beast Of Blue Yonder was scheduled to open at the Southwark Playhouse; but the coronavirus had other ideas. And so Ridley came up with the idea of a series of monologues under the umbrella title of The Beast Will Rise which the company producing the original play, Tramp, could perform to camera with the results being released weekly. Fourteen monologues were planned (there are actually fifteen now) all of them written in response to the current crisis. A couple of weeks ago the final one was released; sensing a second lockdown was going to occur I decided to bide my time and honour these products of #Lockdown1 by reviewing them in #Lockdown2. The other monologues in the series are reviewed here and here.
For the first couple of minutes of Gators it seems as though we are hearing about how Covid 19 has come to take over; but it is something far bigger and perhaps even more deadly. In this dystopian world where large areas of land have become infertile swamps, gators regularly patrol the streets and “go sweet” on humans. They follow them home and even serenade them. The central character finds this to be the case for her and she’s not sure what to do. She tells us a bizarre tale involving some of the tropes of horror movies in which the gators have turned nasty and are on the attack. That this is all the result of humans not following the unwritten rules of association takes us neatly back to a metaphor for the pandemic. Rachel Bright brings a simple down to earth quality to her narration of events but, fuelled by copious amounts of Red Bull, things quickly start to turn appropriately histrionic. It is a well-paced performance that gives credibility to the incredible and shows that Ridley has lost none of his touch in transferring us to a world that is at the same time both familiar and distant.
The second monologue has Grace Hogg-Robinson working in very close proximity to the camera which, from the orientation, would seem to be on a mobile phone. She sometimes has her nose pressed up against the lens and whispers as she tells a tale which starts by giving us a guided tour of her all too perfect house with its sea view, wooden floors and a white picket fence. There is something of David Lynch about this last tell-tale image – “the perverse within the picturesque” – and so it proves. For in this idyllic location, young girls seem to be subject to the privations of uncaring men; given the character’s seemingly tender years the suggestion is that this is a centre for child sex trafficking and therefore plays directly against the images of brightness, cleanliness and positivity which are planted in our minds. Could it be that Zarabooshka (the name of the place we are hearing about and of this monologue) is nothing more than the young girl’s fantasy retreat in her mind? As ever Ridley’s work is open to personal interpretation.
The next pair of monologues are both extremely short and focus on young people’s relationships with their parents taking place in a world that is rather more recognisable as the here and now. In Chihuahua, Charlie Quirke (very good) makes an online confession to an appalling act of cruelty while waiting for his evening meal (I think, unless I’m mistaken, that there was an off camera line for mum, Pauline). That he does so in a cheerfully affable manner makes the act even more horrifying. Meanwhile Nat Johnson tells us about her new found love of Origami. Using the Japanese art of paper folding she is able to shape and manipulate her personal world but has far less success in doing so with her philandering father or dying mother. Neither of these pieces has a great deal of depth but they are put over with conviction and contain the darkest of humour.
A young woman appears before us dressed in white and against a white background immediately giving us the sense of a medical setting in which a patient is undergoing “proceedings” (a mental health review?). She tells us she has a wound and will not try and hide it – as it’s below camera level we are left to ponder its reality or otherwise. A story unfolds which seems pure fantasy as the central character goes through a door to find a fantastical world on the other side (big debt to C.S. Lewis here). What she encounters there leaves her with a sense of awe and wonder but also with the titular Wound. The dilemma for the audience seems to be in sorting the fact from the fantasy though as even the real world seems to feature napalm attacks on a school and a freak accident in which a shop gets burned down, this may or may not be further fantasising on the part of the speaker – or is it Ridley pulling us back into one of his off-kilter worlds? Actually, I eventually decided that it is not important whether there is a wound and how it came about; the monologist believes in it… and in her story and that is what ultimately matters. Mirren Mack gives the strongest performance so far – quiet, reserved and seemingly rational one minute, ranting and totally stressed out the next. In fact, the piece as a whole scored highly for me… or maybe I’m just getting used to the writing, performing and rhythm of these most unusual pieces all directed by the talented Wiebke Green. I look forward to the next set.
Monologues 6 – 10 reviewed here
Monologues 11 – 15 reviewed here
The Beast Will Rise is available on the Tramp website – click here