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A Bad Case of the Mondays
Park Theatre
6th January 2014

★★★☆☆

A Bad Case of the Mondays promotional image

Photography supplied by Paradigm Theatre

Following a festive period in which the train network yet again disintegrated and heavy flooding and storms meant many were left without electricity or temporarily made homeless, it's only understandable that we Southerners have agreed wholeheartedly with the media's war against the first Monday in January. Officially the most depressing day of the year, it marked the start of the first full working week, much of the day involved heavy rain, and well, the only thing worse than being at work when you don't want to be is being at work and soggy. However, January 6th also marked the opening night of Paradigm Theatre's latest new writing project, A Bad Case of the Mondays, so the day ended in laughter rather than tears.

Seven short plays tell rather different stories, but all are linked by a general ill-will towards the first day of the week. Unsurprisingly, employment formed the inspiration for three of the plays, with Work Makes You Free a political clash of opinions on work, Lunch Break set in a staffroom and A Valued Employee about a gallery assistant on sick leave.

Michael Ross's Work Makes You Free is by far the strongest piece, opening the night and warming up the audience for all the plays to follow. Initially there is little to connect laid-back actor Willow (Antonia Reid) and businesswoman Jane (Gemma Rook), but as Ross begins to weave their monologues together, there is a satisfying explosion.

Both Willow and Jane are stereotypes - Willow an artsy free spirit who would rather help workshop a new script than apply for a paid job, Jane an overworked financial professional with a growing dislike of anyone she feels isn't suffering in the workplace quite as much as her. Ross is careful to clearly define each woman, to instil a tiny grain of truth into each one's background, but never to veer into full-blown caricature territory. Often political writing is either completely toothless or crafted viciously at the expense of one party. Ross however seeks a more intelligent balance, making the gentle satire obvious enough for the entire audience to feel included by the humour.

Director Cat Robey captures this intention well, particularly in the closing moments as Jane's disapproval escalates to absurdity. The entire piece is very self-aware, very knowing - it would need to be with that title - and this is what makes it real delight to watch unfold.

B. Spencer Evoy's foray into the world of work focuses on the human dynamic between colleagues, with Worker 2 (Matt Houlihan) challenging Worker 1 (Adam Langstaff) over an alleged kitchen theft, with Worker 3 (Anthony Joblin) watching on. The premise is quickly divulged, and a piece of light-hearted and daft fun ensues.

Equally inevitable is the payoff to Sarah Pitard's A Valued Employee. Bethan Hanks gives a great performance as unhinged employee Natalie alongside boss Mr Trace (Cameron Robertson) but on a technical note, the sound effects were out of synch, detracting from the overall finish. Caro Dixey's Toast or Cereal suffers from the same problem. Again, it's not enough to derail the play, both pieces are still fun to watch, but it's something that really should be addressed - we've seen crisper tech work from Paradigm.

Still, in Dixey's piece, Michael Shon and Kim Burnett deliver excellent performances as always, here as long-term couple Gary and Frankie. The metaphor does feel laboured though, with director Gavin Dent working hard to not cross the line between a familiar joke and an overdone one.

The final three plays are perhaps some of the more outlandish. Katherine Rodden interprets the brief more literally than the other playwrights, with The Lost Case of the Mondays involving a briefcase mix up, causing stress for Darren (Robert Welling), Jeff (Robert Bradley) and mafia-esque suit (Saskia Roddick) with a truly groan-inducing punchline. Rodden also has a stint on stage against Lee Lyrtle, as an unconventional couple in Serena Haywood's The Lionel Blair Sex Years. Both pieces are enjoyable, but ultimately disposable.

And playwright Giles Morris channels Sartre to create a confusing vision of Hell involving The Yellow Pages and a forlorn Crunchie. With incomer Alice (Sian Gordon) left to figure things out by supervisor Marsha (Jessica Barker Wren), long-term condemned soul Trevor (Paul Thomas) offers a few tips. As for Alice, it takes the audience a couple of minutes to piece together the whys and wherefores of the situation - not ideal in such a brief play - but it's an imaginative interpretation of the challenge, resulting in a peculiar sitcom.

Each play is roughly 10 minutes long, linked not only by the idea of Mondays being less than awesome, but also by being comedies. Some plays aren't quite as strong as others, but all will at the very least make you chuckle. New writing nights tend to be a roll call of familiar faces and names, and this is a very promising start to the year - we know there's more to follow from these creatives. A Bad Case of the Mondays is a welcome antidote to the Monday Blues.

A Bad Case of the Mondays ran from 6th to 27th January 2014 at Park Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Finsbury Park (Victoria, Piccadilly)



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