Pros: An exciting sojourn into the suburbs of London’s underworld. Compelling characters, story and language.
Cons: Unsuitable for younger theatregoers, or those with sensitive natures.
Terry Pratchett once wrote that writers should use adjectives as if they cost them a fingernail. So it is with five star reviews. Testament to the quality of The Monkey therefore, is the fact that I could not justify scoring it otherwise.
I arrived at the excellent, if somewhat remote, Theatre 503 feeling under the weather and struggling to set myself into a mood to appreciate theatre. The Monkey was kind enough to aid my professionalism by being excellent from the moment Morgan Watkins sidled into view as the improbably sympathetic Terry.
The curtain is lifted on a World proximate yet alien to that in which most theatregoers reside. Bermondsey becomes the stage for characters whom could easily seem caricatures, yet Stanley’s writing (informed by years of familiarity with London’s crime culture) and the superb performances, add honesty and weight to every moment.
The plot revolves around Terry’s return to his old ‘patch’ after some time away. All four protagonists form part of the criminal and drugs scene. The audience is initiated into the criminal vernacular – some (in the form of Terry) idiosyncratic. Through language and character we come to understand the circumstances in which these people live. Trying to get by in a way that seems normal to them, where respect and reputation carry as much weight as hard currency. The ‘Monkey’ in question refers to £500 loaned by Terry to Alan, an intellectually challenged drug dealer. Terry wants the money back, Alan doesn’t want to pay. The strength of this play lies in its capacity to find humour in the reality of tragic circumstances. To make an audience feel for those society would disavow. To show the human beauty in the ugly truths.
The stage at 503 lends itself to the intimate nature of the action. However, this is a play that could be equally at home in a much larger space. Watkins exudes charisma, filling the auditorium with a violent charm, like a Lost Boy with a sub-machine gun. Daniel Kendrick and Danielle Flett perform with honesty and conviction as Darren and Rebecca. Two drug using criminals engaged in the banality of their daily lives. George Whitehead offers a strong performance as the miserly, yet youthfully naive, dealer Alan. Costume, props and a versatile set all serve the play well and are effective in building the world we witness.
No play is perfect and the subjective nature of theatre means many may disagree with my view. The violence, drug taking and language are elements some may find distasteful. Yet for me, this was an honest, intriguing and compelling play. I had a genuine desire to follow these characters. In many ways this play could be the foundation of a dark sitcom. One only hopes the BBC are watching.
Author: John Stanley
Director: Russell Bolam
Producer: Synergy Theatre Project, Theatre 503
Booking Until: 18 March 2017
Box Office: 020 7978 7040
Booking Link: https://theatre503.com/whats-on/homecomings-the-monkey/