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Monday, Etcetera Theatre

Gloria Williams
Directed by Ellie Joseph
★★★★

Pros: Consuming, innovative, and lyrical writing delivered by a strong, passionate, and talented performer.

Cons: The central conflict wavers toward being cliché; noise from the pub downstairs proved distracting throughout.

Our Verdict: A great one-woman show, certainly worth your time and (small amounts) of money!

Courtesy of the Etcetera Theatre

I should start by saying that I’ve never seen a one-actor production that I enjoyed as much as Freedom Tongues’ Monday at the Etcetera Theatre last night.

The writer and sole performer of this one-hour-long production, Gloria Williams, displays strength and courage as she switches between various characters, always staying true to each portrayal, making a shift clear without banging audiences over the head with the stylistic choice. I was completely consumed by her throughout the entire length of her performance – a feat for me, a theatre-goer who generally thrives on character interaction and catching the small details that take place around the main action. Monday lacks both of these elements, and yet is none the worse off for it; Williams and a chair with a sheet beneath it are the only focal points provided in the otherwise black, bare space, stripping audiences of the ability to ignore the rapid confession and expression of the central figure, Neena. She is a teenage girl burdened with a painful secret, who still wets the bed out of fear, who projects her anger and pain onto everyone she comes into contact with, but who only wants to spare her little sister the same suffering she faced as a child.

Neena is our guide through the story, but Williams also takes on the roles of Neena’s mother, little sister, stepfather, and other various parts throughout, successfully populating the show with versatile characters, even as she remains alone on the stage. She powerfully uses voice and body language to indicate these changes, and to provide a full and complete portrait of a family, and an overall rich tapestry of Neena’s life.

Throughout the piece, Neena comments on her struggles with various issues, including battles with faith, exploring her sexuality, and her unfulfilled need for an affectionate maternal figure. Her angry internal monologues catalogue her loneliness and fear, alongside her desperate desire for approval and attention, and never cease to hint at the dark secret she has felt forced to bear alone. Though I found the interweaving of themes surrounding religious doubt and hypocrisy, sexual abuse and awakening, and mother-daughter conflict to be at times a bit tired and predictable, Williams’ investment as a performer more often than not allowed me to accept the circumstances and go along for the ride.

The conflict between mother and daughter is played out with particular vivacity on Williams’ part. The starkly contrasting, but equally honest portraits she paints of these two women provide the most interesting element to track throughout the play. Neena’s ‘Mums’ is blinded and deafened to her children’s needs by her warped religious faith and unconditional devotion to Neena’s hypocritical stepfather. Meanwhile Neena grows angrier and angrier as she feels forced by family expectations to conceal her struggles with abuse, yet constantly fails to win her Mums’ affection despite selfless efforts to spare her mother and sister from the truth that her stepfather is a ‘bad spirit’ in the house.

Alongside her stellar performance, Williams’ use of language in writing the piece is to be commended. I was immediately struck by the rhythm and careful rhyme utilized, particularly when Williams is possessed by Neena’s voice. Williams’ obvious talent for choosing the right words to convey her story makes an otherwise archetypal account of abuse within the home a much more singular experience.

Joseph’s direction seems aimed to be simple; the show is all about keeping our eyes on Williams and our hearts in the story she tells us. Subtle lighting assists in cueing changes in time and character – occasionally these shifts felt a bit rushed, but they were never entirely unclear.

The climax and final moments of the play capture all of the rising actions’ intensity and feel rewarding and earned; when the lights go down on Williams, you miss her presence and life immediately. She is an excellent, expressive performer, and I felt truly lucky to hear her own words from her own mouth, to see the light and passion in her eyes as she spun the story for us. Her performance has perhaps opened a door into a brand of theatre I might not have given much attention to before; the one-man/woman show has never struck my fancy, but with the quality and constant energy displayed in Monday, I expect to be far more open to the medium!

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Monday runs at the Etcetera Theatre until 23rd September 2012.
Box Office: 020 7482 4857 or book online at http://www.etceteratheatre.com/index.php?id=2

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