Saturday, 19 January 2013

One Monkey Don't Stop No Show - review

Written by: Dombo (@DomOJFryer)

Where's Dom gone?
Tricycle Theatre, London
Was Dom fond?

Yes, this is actually the name of a play. Eclipse Theatre Company bring us this fable of African-American identity in 1970's Philadelphia after the production's successful run in the crucible theatre of Sheffield, and a timely arrival it is too.

Photo: Tristram Kenton
Before the play even starts, the production sets out to induce it's own playful nature upon the audience; announcements are made implying that this is in fact a television show filmed in front of a live studio audience. The effect this has on the onlookers is incredibly profound and the whole play in turn is a lot more fun. Never before have I seen an audience whooping and cheering certain character's arrivals on stage, nor such raucous laughter from the rafters; one woman even "mmmhmmmmmmm"'d every retort. You could almost imagine her finger snapping. Witnessing an audience so liberated from it's traditional shackles is worth watching in itself.

The ensemble is strong, but the one stand out performer is undoubtably Jocelyn Jee Esien, who plays the hilarious Miss Myra, wife of the Reverend Avery Harrison (Karl Collins). This couple, along with their 19 year old son Felix (Isaac Ssebandeke) are 'the most respectable middle-class Black family in Philadelphia'. When Avery's brother dies, his niece Beverly (Rebecca Scroggs) is entrusted to Caleb (the fantastic Clifford Samuel), the man who part owned a nightclub with Avery's brother. Not at all happy with his burden, and being judged as a low-life by the Harrisons, Caleb refuses to take in Beverly - before he accidentally falls in love with her. Oops. At the same time, the Harrisons have to contest with the revelation of Felix's love for "l'il Bits" (Rochelle Rose). As you can imagine, the narrative is at times confusing, and whilst the director (Dawn Walton) and cast do make it slick, at the interval we are left with a lot of laughs, but not much progress. However, the timing in the comedy is perfect, and Esien brings the house down not just with her delivery of the lines, but her body language is superb too. One minor criticism of the cast would be that at times the Philadelphian accents seemed to waver, but this is only noticeable on certain words.

Photo: Tristram Kenton
The set is implicit of a television studio, and does its best to turn the Tricycle's space into a middle class American home of the time, which is done fairly well. Despite this, for one scene in a back alley a metal bin is considered to be enough illusion to convince the audience - it seems as though Designer Libby Watson's hands may have been tied on this one, because the rest of her intelligent set takes up so much room. Thanks to Natasha Chivers, the lighting is simple; and this is all it needs to be. Where the visual effects are intelligent is through the timing, with the lights fading in and out to signal more intimate moments with the characters on stage. These monologues, spaced evenly throughout the piece give you more insight into Don Evans' characters and help you understand the context of the time more effectively.

One Monkey Don't Stop No Show is a delightful comedy, which teaches you to be proud of your roots, whilst at the same time not judging others by theirs. Never mind monkeys, there really isn't much at all that can stop this show.

This production runs until 9 February 2013. 
For more information:
@TricycleTheatre @EclipseTCL 

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