Monogamy – Review – York Theatre Royal

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By Roger Crow, May 2018

It’s almost half way through the comedy-drama Monogamy and I’m willing the nose of a 747 to crash through the roof of the kitchen set. It’s not integral to the plot, but the play needs something major to upset the inert plot and so-so characters.

It revolves around Caroline Mortimer (Janie Dee), a late-forties Nigella type who has a TV cooking show and is filthy rich; Leo (Jack Archer), her gender fluid early twenties son who has finished college, has a hefty debt and wants to go abroad; and Amanda (Genevieve Gaunt), the celebrity matriarch’s alluring personal assistant, who comes across like a female Russell Brand and proves to be one of the the production’s strongest assets.

Then there’s Mike (Patrick Ryecart), the husband/father, who sounds like a mix of Peter “Swingometer” Snow, James Robertson Justice and the Major in Fawlty Towers. He’s obsessed with golf, loves a tipple or three and seems to have escaped from an early seventies sitcom. Oh, and he also suffers from depression like Charlie Higson’s seasoned painter in The Fast Show. I know how he feels.

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“Mix of light and shade”

I dislike almost everyone in the show, until Charlie Brooks turns up. Years on EastEnders ensured any stage play would be a walk in the park, and her troubled character Sally proves a fine mix of light and shade.

Alas, the father thinks she’s there as a potential house-buyer, and nobody sets him straight. This was last funny in 1975. Thrown into the mix is Graeme (Jack Sandle), the builder who’s been working for Caroline and Mike for a few months, and proves integral to the unfolding story.

As bombshells fall with an inevitable predictability, I hope Sally will go crazy with a knife in the second act. I’ve not read Torben Betts’ script and deliberately know very little about the story, so when things start to slot into place, I’m amazed that I managed to predict one of the outcomes, though I doubt even Nostradamus could have guessed how things play out in the last five minutes.

The second act is a definite improvement over the first as the characters come to terms with revelations, and moan about their problems. Ageing, depression, heartbreak, money, or a lack of it are issues we can all relate to. Whether we care enough about those bemoaning their lot is another matter.

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“Very little rings true”

I share a pang of sympathy for the heartbroken son who is clearly a tortured soul. He rails against the fact his folks don’t understand him or his love life, and wants to go off into the world to make a difference.

I’m also reminded of that John Cleese sitcom Hold the Sunset, which boasted a great cast and writer, but for whatever reason failed to gel. Rich people struggling with first world problems is agonisingly dull. Don’t get me wrong, when done well, I’ll quite happily get lost in a Richard Curtis rom-com, thrilled when the well-off hero finds the love of his life or bonds with his eccentric dad.

But here very little rings true.

The gags generate a few chuckles, but it’s more dramatic than comedic. It also commits the cardinal sin of having character A talking while character B stands there waiting to respond. Exposition is always best when at least one of them is doing something, whether making a cuppa or changing a lightbulb.

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“A few belly laughs”

A key problem is it wants to be as gloriously dark as classic Alan Ayckbourn, but is like caffeine-free coffee or alcohol-free beer. It has the flavour but none of the punch of the thing it’s trying to be (Betts’ previous work with Ayckbourn is apparent, but this feels like a pale imitation).

Flashes of lightning and rumbles of thunder add some drama, and there are a few belly laughs during the gloriously bizarre ending. The dad’s reaction to his wife’s closing speech is genuinely hilarious.

But despite an impressive fixed set and good turns from most of the cast, this was just okay when it should have been spectacular.

Monogamy may work better in London when it eventually transfers there. It definitely feels like this York leg is the beta test to see how it plays out in a relatively affluent area. If you are filthy rich, with a first from Cambridge, you may find it hilarious.

I’m glad I’ve seen it because any night in the theatre is better than an evening in front of the box, but with a wittier script, more sympathetic characters and a tighter first act, this could have been more of an event rather than a misfire.

images: Simon Annand


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