The third outing for Chickenshed’s annual celebration of the theatrical monologue is also the biggest yet. While most evenings during the two-week run will feature only a subset of the pieces selected for inclusion, on press night we were treated to all nine, representing a broad variety of voices from across the Chickenshed community.
This bumper edition, clocking in at close to three hours, proved to be something of a rollercoaster ride, through the likes of bereavement, loneliness, self-loathing, dementia and domestic violence. Looking back over that list of topics, perhaps it goes without saying that laughs are in fairly short supply – though they’re by no means absent altogether; Grace Wolstenholme sees to that in her self-performed piece, Why Can’t You See Me? in which she paints a vivid and very funny picture of her life as a normal teenager, who just happens to have cerebral palsy.
Taken as a collection, the nine plays – selected blind by a panel – demonstrate talent and diversity, as well as the potential impact that a well performed monologue can have, and the many creative ways in which the art form can be interpreted. To pick out a few examples: On the Out by Peter Hastings is a quietly moving piece about a man (Olivier LeClair) who’s just been released from prison. As he waits for his sister to pick him up, he reflects on the life ahead of him – and the one he’s left behind. In Cathy Jansen-Ridings’ Pickled Limes, Marion (Julie Wood) berates her emotionally distant husband for everything and nothing, before poignantly revealing the true reason she’s angry with him.
Navigating the Twilight by Sophie Sparham explores the experience of dementia through the use of blackout poetry; as a mother (Ingrid Cannon) reflects on the birth of her daughter, the same text is repeated with certain words redacted, transforming a story of joy and celebration into something much darker. And in I Am a Shield by Sebastian Ross, a young woman (Sabina Bisset) is forced, finally, to question if she’s really the superior being she always assumed herself to be – or is she just an asshole?
Arguably the strongest piece, both in terms of its emotional impact and its creative use of the form – actor Tom Harvey collaborated with no fewer than four directors, each of whom worked on different content – is Pete Dowse and Alex Bremer’s A:live B:reaved, in which a father tries to process the trauma of losing his young daughter. If I could see any of the pieces from Monolog 3 again, this would be the one I’d choose; it has a depth in its content and style that makes it less instantly accessible than the rest, but simultaneously hints at layers of meaning waiting to be unpicked and explored in greater detail. And from a purely practical point of view, its positioning as the final piece of nine meant that on press night, it perhaps didn’t get the full attention it deserved from a tired audience.
Seeing all nine pieces in one evening is a lot, particularly given some of the weighty topics under discussion. So while audiences attending only a subset on other evenings may miss out in terms of the full range of themes and styles, they will hopefully be able to enjoy and engage with those pieces they do see in greater depth. There’s certainly plenty of excellent material, powerful writing and strong performances there to be experienced.
Monolog 3 is at Chickenshed until 22nd February. Those who do wish to see all nine pieces can do so on the last night.