'monster.' - Anonymous Review

As I entered the auditorium on Wednesday evening, I could tell I was going to leave in a few hours feeling thoroughly spooked. Monster, written by third-year student James Huxtable began with a chilling pre-set; a rundown house with its windows boarded up, an old couple at the dining table seemingly full of dread, and a mysterious door leading to what I could only guess was the basement. Three ‘shadows’ occupied the entrance to the auditorium holding plates of questionable looking food, putting everybody in an uneasy mindset.

The plot of the show had been kept very quiet within the theatre scene of the university, so I had little idea of the genre I was about to watch, or how intense the performance would be. I don’t want to give away too much, but in essence the multi-narrative follows three couples, and their struggles to attain what they desire most in life. Martin and Annie are an old couple, with a secret in their basement that they’re struggling to contain. Another younger couple’s relationship begins to collapse as their chance of having a child seems further and further away. A third, a teenage love triangle, brings comedy into the mix, as well as providing essential clues for the origin of the story. Ultimately, I think this piece was about the mind, and how it can turn the struggles of human living into something completely self-consuming.

Stand out performances came from Emily Bowles, whose characterisation as the old woman Annie was distressing and never once faltered, and Matthew Bevan, who brought to life the innocent nature of the old couple’s nurse, Winston. His character brought a sense of comedic relief, but was also easy to sympathise with, as he was trying to figure out the mystery of the basement along with the audience. Lucy Bytheway and Jake Bastable brought forward a more realist approach; there were moments where I forgot I was watching a play as their arguments seemed so genuinely frustrating and moving.

The tech was some of the best executed I’ve seen in a SUTCO production. The red glowing of the basement door, and the near continuous underscore of jarring music never seemed incongruous to the dialogue or action on stage. It was certainly an exciting performance, and there wasn’t a member of the audience who didn’t spend the interval discussing their theories or linking together parts of the story.

One thing I was unsure of was the role of the ‘shadows’. Whilst they were suitably haunting, I could not work out whether they had a deeper meaning or were just ASMs that fit the aesthetic of the show, particularly during the scene in the adoption office where they distracted (intended or not I’m unsure) from the action at hand. During act two their roles became clearer as they featured heavily in Annie’s ‘trip’ on her calming medication. The staging, sound and movement were surreal and overwhelming, and all I wished in that moment was to never have to experience something like that in my own mind.

Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed the tension of the play, the comedic moments and shocking twists, I couldn’t help but be disappointed by the big reveal of what the monster was. When the monster had been represented symbolically through light and sound, had spoken to Annie, Martin and Wilson in a booming voice, and had been fed a very questionable meal, the answer didn’t make sense, or quite match up to the mystery which had been built up which such beautifully crafted tension. It did not undermine my enjoyment of the show, and I’m not sure what exactly I wanted the monster to be, but it wasn’t the answer I was looking for.

Despite this, the cast, crew, production team, and especially writer James Huxtable should be incredibly proud of what they produced. For a first performance of original writing, the story flowed seamlessly, was undeniably engaging, and left everyone in the audience with so much to discuss on the way home, and dwell over again once alone. A wonderfully thought-provoking piece of work that I hope is developed further after this run, as it has the potential to be worked into something exceptional.

4/5 stars