EUTCO’s first offering of the academic year is Duncan Macmillan’s Monster, directed by dynamic duo Alice Austin and Nicole Moran. Set in the early 2000s, Monster follows a teacher in training left with the task of saving a disturbed and violent child from permanent expulsion, whilst also struggling with his own mental health and relationship issues.
James Bowen and Jacob Crossley played Tom – the troubled teacher – and Darryl, his troublesome pupil.
Bowen approaches Tom with a well thought out hesitancy, perfectly placing each line with delicacy. His subtlety makes Tom’s moments of outburst all the more unexpected and frightening. It’s always difficult staging a text at university that includes characters significantly older/younger than our own age. Crossley embodies Darryl with such clarity though, that you don’t question his fourteen year old character for a second. Crossley’s energy and dedication to his role makes his scenes enticing. The actors complement each other perfectly, and the chemistry between them on stage is electric.
Whilst the chemistry was palpable between Bowen and Crossley, it was somewhat lacking between Tom and his fiancée Jodi, played by Gussy Hyddleman. The supposedly tender moments between the lovers felt a tad contrived and therefore didn’t provide the audience with any emotional relief after the most intense scenes. This is not to undermine Hyddleman’s performance though; she portrayed her scared and struggling character with ease, particularly in one of the play’s most intense and climatic scenes with Crossley.
Malusa Gisele Namurhobo Kilonda, captures the essence of Rita, Darryl’s grandmother, well. She strikes the balance between determined and completely hopeless and has the audience’s sympathy at all times. More could have been given in the final scene however, as this seemed to fall a little flat.
I usually resent traverse staging; seeing the other half of the audience and knowing they can see me gives me the uncomfortable feeling that I’m under the spotlight. But for this production, the intimate setting meant that I was completely engrossed in the action. My only issue with such a close staging was the inconsistent use of props. Why have a veil but no wedding dress? A ring box but no ring? A baby but no baby bump? Placing your audience so close to the action meant that these vacancies were clearly visible and ultimately took us out of the action we were so wound up in. Maybe there was a directorial choice behind this, but juxtaposed with naturalistic acting and gripping text, I am unsure what that choice could be.
The play is no easy text to work on. It focuses on mature topics and catapults through the action at top speed from the very beginning. But what Austin and Moran have created from this is something spectacular. It’s an emotional roller-coaster, sure, but its heaviest, scariest scenes are matched with moments of genuine tenderness and loveliness. They have set the bar high for future productions from EUTCO and Exeter’s other theatre societies.
Whilst the production has no more performances in Exeter, Monster can be seen Saturday 26th November at Bristol, see link for details: https://www.facebook.com/events/1822489527971073/