Vault Festival 2018: Monster
The Vault Festival 2018 opens its first night with a very interesting line up of original productions, among which there is the powerful Monster. Joe Sellman-Leava has drawn on his memory, combined with some fiction, to write a semi-autobiographical piece investigating the border between feeling angry and being violent.
The protagonist gets the part for a play on domestic abuse: a drama about real facts – with episodes sadly happening in many households – and a script that uses the expressions and language of Shakespeare. In order to best impersonate the character, Joe starts researching acting references and similar cases, becoming obsessed with Patrick Stewart and Mike Tyson. The stupid and intelligent – at the same time! – questions of his girlfriend stick in his head, raising more doubts, prompting additional research, more digging into the investigations of the boxer and his trial. The events intertwine with lines from monologues of the play’s character and the actor’s models.
Sellman-Leava moves red chairs, interacts with them, and uses the other few objects as if they were being manipulated by seven other characters on the stage. He brilliantly carries off this one-man show by lending his same body to the various people who are part of the story. With exceptional facial expressions and by perfectly mimicking the different voices, Joe becomes a funny and concerned host of the night. He addresses the audience now and again as if talking to a friend. This continuous change of register and the free movements in the scenes give the piece a dynamic pace, holding the viewer’s attention for the whole hour.
The show starts in medias res, and plays cleverly with beams of light, which happen to be even more effective in the crypt-like Cage at the Vaults. More clarity in the mixed initial monologues, however, would have benefited the beginning, as the crossed soliloquies appear a bit too convoluted to identify and absorb the lines. After the first ten to fifteen minutes, though, all the elements reach a good balance. Despite the performer’s warnings to us of how his job and his relationship will combine for a final revelation, everything slowly and subtly builds into a climax that is strong and unexpected in the very final scenes.
The question of what is true and what is not remains unsolved, but the play is undeniably a compelling piece on the monstrous brutality of some men.
Photo: Ben Borley
Monster is at Vault Festival 2018 from 24th until 28th January 2018. For further information or to book visit the festival website here.