views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Camden People's Theatre
30th August 2015


Emilie Fleming as Elsie

Photography provided by the hardy

With a black screen curved around the chair where a young woman (Emilie Fleming) sits, wrapped up in a white blanket, and a harsh spotlight falling upon her, the black box stage of Camden People's Theatre has been brought forward and squished to make it seem even smaller than normal. There's no flicker in the lighting design, yet with the more intimate space and the pitch black surroundings it feels like we're at some kind of surreal campfire in the middle of the night, sharing ghost stories, tales of horror which aren't true. There's a real conspiratorial atmosphere as we huddle together waiting for the woman to speak. This is the tragic tale of how Elsie fell for a Monster, and in turn became one herself.

Writer and director Abram Rooney uses the space beautifully. The chairs aren't actually pushed together, yet it feels like we're sitting closer to one other somehow - maybe we are all leaning in, holding our breath in anticipation. As an audience, we definitely sense we're sharing something meaningful with each other. Elsie's duvet looks more like a straitjacket; her arms appear to be bound and the only part of her that's moving is her head. She stares at us, grins, flicks her tongue out and generally gives the impression of being a few cards short of a deck. Given all Fleming has to convey sentiment to us is her head, it's quite amazing she pulls off such a physical performance. There's very little of her to physically move.

Rooney's dialogue flits between a factual description of Elsie's circumstances and some bizarre tangents, the juxtaposition between the mundane and the shocking leading us to laugh. Sometimes it's genuine laughter, at others it's the sort of the noise you make when you don't quite believe what's going on, but if a chuckle-like noise doesn't escape from your mouth, the bleakness will consume you. Fleming delivers these lines with all the earnestness they require - whilst we're not entirely sure whether she's mad, we do certainly believe her character has suffered greatly.

At only 30 minutes, Monster is relatively short, however the intensity of Fleming's performance makes it one very rich half hour. Any longer, and I think it would actually hurt to carry on witnessing Elsie's insistence she too became a monster by virtue of staying in a relationship with one. Rooney explores victim shaming with sensitivity - by layering Elsie's story in the way he does, we understand how she's found herself in far too deep and why she blames herself, however if we look past the strange facial tics, really, is there anything wrong with her? Is she actually what she thinks she is? These questions are all the more intriguing and difficult given this is a one-woman show and we only get to hear one side of the story, and the narrator isn't being too kind about her.

This is a brilliant example of how a short one-person show can be something quite special. Here quality wins out over quantity, with Monster a horrifically compelling piece of theatre, executed with style and emotion.

Monster ran from 28th to 30th August 2015 at Camden People's Theatre as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Warren Street (Northern, Victoria)

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