Sunday, 10 May 2009

Monsters - Arcola Theatre

Monsters by Niklas Radstrom
Translator: Gabriella Berggren
Director: Christopher Haydon

Reviewer: Evelyn Downing

The story of the two year old abducted and killed by a pair of ten year old boys in 1993 is well known. It was on the news, in the papers, we saw the cctv footage and reports of the trial and so, as the actors pointed out in the opening words of this piece, I didn’t know what to expect from a play based on these events; what they could bring to the story that was new? As it turns out however the fact we know what happened is the peg on which this whole piece hangs, and it hangs beautifully.

The writing (fluently translated by Gabriella Berggren from the original Swedish version by Niklas Radstrom) has a fantastic rhythm to it that captivates. There is a poetic ebb and flow, especially in passages that the cast speak together, which is in direct contrast to the continual reminders that what is being described really happened. This conflict makes Monsters very difficult to talk about coherently; use of transcripts of police interviews with the boys and the inclusion of help line numbers on the publicity materials, hammer home the reality in a way that becomes uncomfortable, voyeuristic even. The distance, the sense of unreality normally associated with theatre is never allowed to establish itself so we are not given an opportunity to explore the issues without feeling personally accused at every turn. Which is perhaps the point.

That said however the performances by all four of the actors (Lucy Ellinson, Sandy Grierson, Jeremy Killick and Victoria Pratt) were superb, authoritative and confident with the very difficult subject matter. The slightly hesitant, serious nature of the curtain call from the full house in the Arcola was if anything more of a tribute to the actors’ skill in creating atmosphere; after such a harrowing, emotional journey for both the cast and audience it almost didn’t feel right to be applauding. The performers work together seamlessly on a simple but beautifully designed set, with clever use of light, sound and video that punctuate and highlight moments in the piece without feeling too intrusive. The cameras and white noise we associate with communications remind us continually of the age in which this took place, an age with surveillance, with violence in the media and in entertainment, putting the events squarely in our society, in our world. Overall, a well thought through, well directed production that uses the script and space to good effect.

The use of material as emotive as children killing children is always going to create controversy and there has been quite a bit of press coverage about this. Monsters will not be for everyone. It is not a comfortable watch. It is not entertainment. It is however a brilliant piece of theatre; a very stark, even, non-judgemental portrayal of events which does what theatre should do, guiding us through the events, providing insight and perspectives, raising questions about ourselves and our society and leaving the answers to us.

Monsters is on at the Arcola Theatre until 30th May.
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