The Monkey (Theatre 503)

Posted: March 9, 2017 in Theatre

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If Quentin Tarantino had ever directed an episode of Only Fools and Horses, the result could have been something like John Stanley’s new 90-minute play The Monkey.  The production is mounted by Synergy Theatre Project as part of their Homecoming season, featuring plays by prisoners and ex-prisoners. If Stanley is drawing from personal experience in his account of drug-abusing petty criminals,  it is to be hoped that he has “exapperated” (malapropisms occur regularly) the psychopathic tendencies of his central character, Tel.

Morgan Watkins’ Tel is volatile and threatening, the character modelling himself on Michael Madsen in Reservoir Dogs. He is so offended by the gormless “Thick-Al” (George Whitehead), who owes him a monkey (a glossary of Cockney rhyming slang provided with the text comes in handy), that he interrupts his breakfast of a single Jaffa Cake and Coke (the drink) and offers him a makeover to give him the Vincent Van Gogh look. Following another bout of violence, he asks his dim-witted buddy Dal (Daniel Kendrick) whether he still has a chance with his on/off girlfriend Becks (Danielle Flett), having just tried to strangle her and he reflects fondly on the transformative moment in his life when, at the age of eight, he saw Harvey Keitel in Bad Lieutenant. Tel is not a nice man, but liking him is the play’s guilty pleasure and Watkins is towering in the role.

Cleverly, Stanley taps into a vein of British humour that associates itself with “Sarf” London rogues and runs through the Ealing comedies, PorridgeOnly Fools…etc and his dialogue is as sharp as the knife that Tel wields with menace.  The play is about people who are trapped in a spiral of criminality, but Stanley finds no time to expand on their hopelessness or to introduce pathos and the play tails off disappointingly without the touch of irony that it needs. However, the laughs come thick and fast, director Russell Bolam keeping the production bubbling so that we hardly care that the characters and situations have little depth. Good black comedies have been a rarity of late. but, on the the evidence of this ferocious and ferociously funny play, Stanley has the flair to reinvigorate the genre.

Performance date: 8 March 2017

Photo: Simon Annand

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