The world premiere of Torben Betts' Monogamy sees celebrated chef Janie Dee's home life unravelling. Daniel Perks reviews this dramatic, off-camera slice of middle class England:

In front of the camera, Caroline Mortimer (Janie Dee) runs a perfect kitchen – James Perkins’ homecooked set ensures that nothing is out of place in this picturesque impression of upper middle-class London living. The small talk flows naturally – Caroline’s charmingly disarming patter is typical of her breed and upbringing. Successful husband; high-achieving son; two perfect twin daughters. It’s the projection of a life that all her viewers aspire towards. Then, at the start of Monogamy, the camera switches off, and it’s an entirely different story.

Monogamy Park Theatre

Janie Dee (image courtesy of Helen Maybanks)

Torben Betts’ production aims to peek behind the curtain and unveil the unravelling of a family in crisis – as such it comes across as a tightly wound spring. Son Leo (Jack Archer) returns home from university with life-changing liberal news; assistant Amanda (Genevieve Gaunt) is grieving and snorting; builder Graeme (Jack Sandle) and wife Sally (Charlie Brooks) enter to cause adulterous chaos. And then there’s husband Mike (Patrick Ryecart), one of the old boys who golfs and drinks and adopts a manner typical of snobbish England. Everyone is a hyper-realised caricature of themselves.

But it’s all so over hammed, especially in Alastair Whatley’s direction. The narrative has an absurdist angle to it, one that never truly goes anywhere but which depicts the falling apart of a family trying desperately to plaster over the cracks. And that’s the manner in which Monogamy comes across – Whatley tries to farcically smooth over the imperfections without accepting their presence and celebrating the resulting discord.

Monogamy Park Theatre

Janie Dee, Charlie Brooks & Patrick Ryecart (image courtesy of Helen Maybanks)

As the matriarch, Dee holds together a fractious production with an equally fraught, yet largely successful, performance. The subtext in her mannerisms throughout the first half has a delightful complexity, before it all unravels in a drunken, stumbling mess towards the end of a second half that dives off the deep end into chaotic pandemonium. But it is Brooks that is most successful in her role, which unfortunately only really gets going halfway through the show. While the remaining characters are mostly over-performed, Brooks slowly breaks apart as it becomes clear that she isn’t keeping to her medication schedule. The couple dynamic between Sally and husband Graeme (an earnest turn by Sandle) is far more watchable than any of the other relationships on stage – foppish Mike (Ryecart) never breaks through the stereotypical façade, while repressed Leo (Archer) spends his life wringing his hands and playing downtrodden with a teary naivety.

Monogamy Park Theatre

Genevieve Gaunt & Janie Dee (image courtesy of Helen Maybanks)

Monogamy is a frustrating production, one that is in the main failed by its incoherent direction. The narrative hurtles towards an abyss without rhyme or reason, but it is Whatley’s vision that is most confusing here. Betts has penned elements of farce and satire, but also of poignancy and underlying tension. It’s difficult to keep these in balance and this version of Monogamy is too inherently scattered to juggle all the emotional balls at once. The unravelling is uncomfortable, the changes in atmosphere haphazard and uneasy. In many ways, this production plays out to the intent of its script – fraught, frantic and careening forward without knowing its destination.

 

 

★★☆☆☆

Monogamy runs at Park Theatre until 7 July 2018. For further information, please visit the venue website.