Monolog 4 at Chickenshed Theatre Online
This last year has been a renaissance for the monologue format. Whether purposefully or through pandemic-induced necessity, the period has offered some of the best monologues in ages: Death of England: Delroy, Overflow, Beat the Devil – one-person shows have never been so good. In keeping with this theatrical trend, stalwart entertainers Chickenshed have released the fourth iteration of their monologue season (aptly titled Monolog 4) and the results are… mixed.
Really, there’s so much to like about these eight pieces. Each is crystallised around a strong concept and realised by an eager performer; above all else, it’s clear these creatives care about their work. Some are laugh-a-minute (like Come Closer by Rebecca Hardy) and others are more grounded (like Cathy Jansen-Ridings’ Metamorphosis), but all are unified by the level of care imbued into them.
The difficulty comes from the formatting – the pieces feel inert online. Without the immediacy of being live, the monologues drag, weighed under the stress of less-than-stellar pacing. Performances that could be a tight ten minutes are stretched to fill slots twice as long, and the actors can’t rely on audience interaction to firm up the experience.
Take The State of the Artist by Sebastian Ross, for example. The monologue revolves around a very valid idea (the debate on whether artistic meaning is intended or invented), but the piece languishes because it lacks a to-and-fro between performer and audience. Despite Daryl Bullock’s commendable efforts, without the sound of laughter to buoy his delivery, the piece ends up feeling repetitive and one-note. It’s bittersweet to imagine how much better it would have been performed live.
This assessment, unfortunately, rings true for all the pieces, although some still offer top-quality moments. Hannah Smith’s The Sleep Stealers, for instance, deftly intertwines magical realism with a glimpse into the heartbreaking effects of late-stage capitalism. Watching this young girl (Lucy-Mae Beacock) try to grapple with ideas of poverty and inequality is almost too moving for Tuesday evening. Equally, Gin Sisters by Cathy Jansen-Ridings is kitchen-sink drama at its finest, watching a mother prepare for her daughter’s wedding, whilst resisting being dragged into childish squabbles over break-ups and spurned exes. Juicy stuff.
Despite these stand-outs, however, the same few problems nevertheless pervade: the scripts don’t justify their elongated run-time, and the actors seem adrift without an audience to play off. Although each offers a strong central idea and the makings of knock-out performances (Julie Wood in Come Closer especially – definitely one to watch), the monologues are held back by these inhibiting issues. Perhaps with a quick edit and some live laughter, the pieces could absolutely shine. At the moment, however, they only shimmer with possibility.
Monolog 4 is available to stream from 11th February until 20th February 2021. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch a trailer for the production here: