Lucy and I had the pleasure of seeing What Monsters Do at The Eclectic Theatre in Camden last Sunday evening. Being such massive fans of Nicholas Vince’s original book, there was absolutely no way we’d miss this.
Set only in a tiny black box theatre, Director Philip North transformed Nicholas Vince’s Tunes from the Music Hall into an astounding piece of visual art.
This tale starts out in Victorian London, with a family moving into a house that is haunted by a disfigured young man (Doug Colling). As things start to progress, we find out that it’s not the ghost we should be worried about. Rudolf (Craig Hannah) starts an (at the time, illegal) relationship with another man, named Angelo (Harpreet Chaggar), and from then on, his family life breaks down. The ghost soon starts to become more and more aggravated and takes matters into his own hands. The performance ends with a tense finale – almost perfectly acted out by the wonderful cast.
Being only in a small room, with limited props, I found this performance to be incredibly atmospheric. The visually pleasing costumes (on loan from the National Theatre) and Collings facial special-effects (Kayla Holroyd) definitely helped with this. Victorian London is usually known within the horror genre to be a chilling era, and within this play, it is no different. What sets it aside from others, is that it highlights the struggle of a homosexual relationship in those times, which is hard to make believable, but with Vince and North on board, it was totally made possible.
Although the performance was only 25 minutes long, and the story only 12 pages, I could totally see this working as a feature length film. Each and every character was intriguing and ultimately, it left me wanting more.
Green Eyes is presented to the audience through Justinian’s (Mark Phillip Compton) sadistic point of view. For the stage adaptation, this was accompanied by a narrator (Hannah) who spoke Justinian’s inner thoughts and monologues. We realise from the start of the performance that something isn’t quite right with Justinian; the first instance is the rather vivid description of a cat melting in the fire, only to discover that it was just in his mind. Some things he comes out with are morbidly funny. The audience seemed to agree too, as they laughed aloud at a lot of the stuff he both said and did. It was certainly light hearted at times compared to Tunes from the Music Hall, but that doesn’t mean it was less horrifying. The collection of stories is based on the claim that it is ‘our acts, not our flesh that make us monsters’ and Justinian is a prime example of this. He is human on the outside, but his thoughts and acts are far more chilling. Compton captured this idea perfectly on stage.
The arrival of Davis (Colling) causes clear disruption for Justinian, who displays contempt towards him from the very start. It appears to be a difficult subject for both Justinian and Sally (Melanie Fenn), who we originally assume is Justinian’s partner. The tension between the two characters is performed very well, and it is obvious that Sally is trying hard to keep things together. Davis has clearly had a serious impact on both of their lives, for reasons unknown until the climax of the play. The mystery surrounding Davis is frustrating, but also engrossing.
Without giving away any spoilers, I thought the truth about Davis was one of the most chilling twists I’ve ever seen. In fact, it’s so subtle and sudden that it took a moment for it to register. The ending was just as well-crafted as the book, which I also strongly recommend. The entire performance was flawless and you could tell the actors were immersed in their roles. Praise must also be given to Philip North who directed the whole thing, as it was well polished and evidently well-rehearsed too.
What Monsters Do ran 26-28th Oct at the Etcetera Theatre, Camden.
Written by: Nicholas Vince
Director: Philip North
Producers: Philip North, Claire Soares, Peter Davis.
Cast: Doug Colling, Mark Philip Compton, Craig Hannah, Tara Howard, Harpreet Chaggar, Tallulah Ward, Melanie Fenn.