The Monster In The Hall

Fri 19th October 2012

reviews

Ella Bucknall

at 01:25 on 20th Oct 2012

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Anything which advertises itself as an “indie comedy musical about a girl on the verge of a nervous breakdown” is undoubtedly to be approached with trepidation. However, ‘The Monster in the Hall’ proved not – as I imagined – to be a pair of nerd-glasses away from a tumblr blog, but is actually a rather charmingly warped modern-day fairy tale.

David Grieg’s self-professed “tragic but ultimately uplifting tale” follows “Duck” Macatarsney (Gemma McElhinney), a wee sixteen year old motherless girl from Scotland who is desperately trying to prove her normality to a social service worker. Meanwhile her father (Keith Macpherson), a motorbike-riding junkie with MS, finds love on a virtual reality gaming website, and her metrosexual friend Lawrence (David Carlyle) tries to convince her to give him a fake blow-job behind a chip shop to prove to everyone his heterosexuality, all to the backdrop of a 60s-style harmonic pop band, “The Duckettes”, who act strangely as a kind of Greek chorus. It sounds ridiculous but, lying somewhere in between 'Beauty and the Beast' and 'Scott Pilgrim vs the World', ‘The Monster in the Hall’ is a dynamic play with moments of real comedy and pathos, which only occasionally over-does it on the pantomime (the fairy of Catastrophe, for instance, being a slightly unnecessary addition).

Relentlessly energetic, Guy Hollands' production is performed seamlessly by the enthusiastic cast of four. Using four microphones (the only props on stage apart from a chair and four pairs of pink glasses), the cast produce the sound effects themselves, most notably the “vroom” of the motorbike which acts as an ominous refrain indicating danger in Duck’s life. The music and songs which interrupt intermittently throughout the play are similarly as impressive, the cheerful harmonies and lyrics often being darkly ironic and always farcically comical and clichéd. For instance, Lawrence is described as the “smoothest smoothie” and “as peachy as a peach”. Indeed, the most is made of pastiche throughout the play, as the genre swerves from sports-commentary to Mastermind, all tied together by a comical meta-theatrical narrative. Undoubtedly, for me, the funniest scene throughout the play is the ‘virtual reality’ scene in which Duck’s father and his hilarious Norwegian anarchist girlfriend (Beth Marshall), with mechanical jaw movements and robotic arms, act as their internet avatars, while the other two actors do their computer automated voice-overs. If there were one word to describe this production it would be ‘camp’ but that is not to say that Grieg makes light of tragedy. Likewise, Gemma McElhinney’s portrayal of Duck is full of sorrow underneath the chaos of the play.

If it were not so tightly directed and did not have four very good actors, the production may have run the risk of being a flimsy and even irritating portrayal of a teenage girl’s angst-ridden life. However, as it stands, I would certainly recommend this vibrant play which boldly states: “Life’s a game of Tetris and it’s just gone up a level.”

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