A s Storm Angus set in, I sat down to watch Duncan Macmillan’s ‘Monster’, EUTCO’s first Term 1 show. In the newly (theatrically) appreciated Mardon Hall, I took a seat on the right-hand side of the common room, split from the other half of the audience by the stage in the middle of the room in a traverse layout. I was excited to see what the directors had created. Alice Austin and Nicole Moran, armed with a fantastic production team and an impressively talented cast, stunned the audience.
A sharp, focused and pacy piece, ‘Monster’ transported its audience away from the hail outside and to a classroom in London, where a new teacher, Tom, is attempting to focus Darryl, an out-of-control student. The more Tom interacts with Darryl, the more he loses faith that Darryl can be saved: maybe all the tragic events in this boy’s life have left him irreparably damaged. When is this teenager responsible for his actions? How far is his grandmother Rita (Malusa Kilonda) responsible for his actions? And when do teenagers stop being viewed as ‘projects’ and start being viewed as ‘trouble’?
In a piece as heavy as this one, the cast did an incredibly good job of retaining the audience’s interest. I believe this was due to the theatrical talents of James Bowen and Jacob Crossley, who played Tom and Darryl respectively. Bowen’s flawless naturalism, paired with Crossley’s twitchy, energy-fuelled method, created a dynamic relationship between their two characters, and made the textual parallels between the two much more fascinating than a simple nature/nurture debate.
With a minimalistic set, the show relied on its actors, and they did not disappoint. I’m a big believer that, when creating this type of theatre, it’s vital that the audience trust the actors to carry the show. For something that sounds simple, it’s a feat not always achieved. The audience need to feel that they can relax into the piece; that they won’t be asked to believe something unreasonable; that nothing will go wrong. I trusted Bowen and Crossley entirely: I trusted that, even if something went wrong, they could carry the show.
Bowen’s flawless naturalism, paired with Crossley’s twitchy, energy-fuelled method, created a dynamic relationship between their two characters
As the play developed, we met Jodi (Gussy Hydleman), Tom’s pregnant partner. The play spans over her 9-month term, and I was interested to see how they tackled the challenge of placing baby bump on a second year student. As it turned out, they skipped the challenge completely. It’s easier to ask an audience to imagine something than to unsee something. By avoiding an obviously fake baby-bump, Moran and Austin encouraged the audience to imagine alongside them, rather than believe a blatant lie. I appreciated this decision: bold, and creative, it set its own rules. At times, however, it jarred with the text: when Jodi expressed how large and pregnant she was, the imagined image became difficult to support.
At moments, some scenes lacked character process- a sudden leap between emotions left me feeling a little abandoned, as if the actor had merely recited their lines as opposed to allowing the organic progression of character to develop. I think this is partly due to flawed writing- Macmillan has been criticised in the past for ‘contrived’ scenes, and therefore I’m not sure the actor was entirely responsible.
A cleverly directed piece, with two stand-out performances: EUTCo, and the university in general, should be proud to be sharing this piece with the University of Bristol Drama Society. I have no doubt that EUTCo’s shows will continue to be of the same high standard.