Saturday, 13 June 2015

Theatre review: The Dead Monkey

Apparently Nick Darke's The Dead Monkey is regularly revived internationally, but it's not a play I'd heard of before. Set in 1970s California, Hank (James Lance) and Dolores (Ruth Gibson) have been married 15 years, living in a tatty little beach house. Hank's wages as a travelling salesman don't stretch too far, especially as he has an insatiably hungry and disruptive pet monkey to feed. As the play opens, the monkey has died while Hank was away, and Dolores is trying to figure out how to break the news to him. It seems at first that their marriage will survive the loss of its unusual third member, especially when they get a Macedonian curly piglet called Dogduck to replace it. But this is clearly a destructive relationship and the more they try to pretend it isn't, the closer they come to things getting really ugly.

Anthony Lamble's set may evoke a sunny beach but there's a lot of darkness in the play. But it depicts it in an unusual way, by regularly dipping into a sense of the surreal that make it feel like absurdist comedy before taking another murky turn.

The most bizarre comic moments usually revolve around appearances by the Vet (Charles Reston,) whose suggestions for disposing of the monkey's body include eating it, and who greets some of the couple's most appalling confessions as if they were commonplace.

I don't know if it's the writing or Hannah Price's production but I never felt the play's wild shifts of tone worked. It made for a show uncomfortable to watch in the wrong way, as one group in the audience were so obviously determined to treat it as a raucous comedy that even moments of misogynistic violence where received with warm chuckles. The Dead Monkey looks at a crumbling marriage through a uniquely odd perspective, an approach that can pay dividends. But in this case I found it curiously unengaging, and didn't care enough to want to get into its mindset.

The Dead Monkey by Nick Darke is booking until the 4th of July at Park Theatre 90.

Running time: 2 hours including interval.

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