Pros: With interesting themes, both monologues inspire you to find out more about their protagonists.
Cons: The second monologue is much better than the first, so Larry suffers by comparison.
Heavens of Invention is a double bill of biographical monologues by Mark Burgess. In the first, Larry, Laurence Olivier (Keith Drinkel) reflects upon his career as he returns to acting following a series of life-threatening illnesses. In the second, The Man with the Golden Pen, Ian Fleming (Michael Chance) confides his anxieties and regrets in his iconic creation, James Bond, on the eve of his wedding. While both pieces are enjoyable, The Man with the Golden Pen is by far the stronger of the two.
Larry has its strengths, but also has pronounced weaknesses. The opening gambit, in which Olivier examines a rather scary dentistry kit, is intriguing. Olivier explains that he is preparing for a new role and you should, ‘always know your props’.’ The audience is introduced to a monologue about the nature of theatre and thirsts for further exploration. Larry goes on to tackle some interesting themes, including physical illness, personal motivation, and the effects of stress. The script also pleasingly exhibits some playfully witty lines, which raise a few laughs.
However, there are some issues with the script and the direction. An hour is a long time for a monologue and Larry does let your mind wander. At points, the piece descends into a list of Olivier’s work. While the man certainly had a jam-packed career, there is no need to cram it all into one production – a few choice examples would be far more engaging. While Larry sometimes suffers from information overload, at other points the script is perfunctory. The cursory, almost flippant, reference to Vivian Leigh’s (Olivier’s second wife) bipolar disorder is especially unsatisfactory.
Unfortunately, Larry is a bit of a thespians’ play – it relies too heavily on the audience knowing its Olivier and its Shakespeare to communicate any more interesting, broader themes. Given also that Drinkel fluffs a noticeable number of lines, it can be difficult to immerse yourself in the monologue properly. I was reviewing the second night, so Drinkel is likely to smooth out his dialogue over the course of the run. Larry has its ups and downs – I’d describe it as a fairly solid monologue with amateurish tinges.
The Man with the Golden Pen is markedly more impressive. Director Louise Jameson skillfully creates a consistently engaging monologue through artful stage setting, prop use and intermittent voiceovers. For example, Fleming slowly changes from dressing gown to his wedding outfit throughout the first half, reflecting how the character is preparing to conceal his innermost thoughts, precisely as he confides in his own creation.
Burgess’s second script is better. Fleming’s monologue is addressed to James Bond – an imagery onstage presence. The otherwise unusual combination of conversational self-reflection with no reply makes perfect sense. What’s more, Burgess artfully entwines Fleming’s own life, successes and regrets in Bond’s. Burgess evocatively demonstrates how Fleming created 007 to live through vicariously, and Chance’s lines are interspersed with delightfully Bond-esque quips and double-entendre.
Chance’s performance as Fleming is strong; he switches from energetic to weary with consistent and intense characterisation. Upholding this for fifty minutes is no mean feat! (I’d like to add that Michael Chance’s hair is just perfect for the role – you’ll understand what I mean when you see it.)
As you can probably tell, I’m finding it difficult to criticise the Man with the Golden Pen, and I think Larry suffers by comparison. Nonetheless, both plays left me with the urges to research their protagonists – something I certainly count as a success.
Author: Mark Burgess
Directors: Daniel Finlay (Larry) and Louise Jameson (The Man with the Golden Pen)
Box Office: 020 7287 2875
Booking Link: https://www.eticketing.co.uk/jermynstreettheatre/list.aspx?tagref=67
Booking Until: 7 March 2015