Monogamy at the Park Theatre: a ‘series of different tastes’ and ‘delectable cast’
Another new state of the nation play from Torben Betts, Monogamy focuses on the television personality Caroline Mortimer. Anthony Walker-Cook praises the performances of all the cast with more culinary jokes than you can shake a wooden spoon at.
If one thinks about television chefs, it’s likely that Gordon Ramsay comes to mind, probably swearing and professing that the meat is still raw. Perhaps however, we should think of Caroline Mortimer, also a chef and the central character of Torben Betts’s new play Monogamy, played by Janie Dee. Whilst the lamb sauce remains absent, Monogamy plates up a darkly comic state of the nation play under the direction of Alastair Whatley, with each actor bringing their own unique flavour.
Although she is the nation’s second-favourite TV cook, on the surface Caroline has it all: a banker husband, a large house in Highgate, successful children and a stunning kitchen, in which the play is set. James Perkins has beautifully realised the modern kitchen, with the back wall consisting of a tasteful wood-lined section and contrasting turquoise bricks, on which sit shelves with potted herbs that bring a refreshingly dark green to the design. In the middle of the stage sits a central island whilst a pastel blue fridge just to the left offers a vibrant injection of colour. As Monogamy begins, Caroline is rehearsing for the final episode of Caroline’s Kitchen for the current series, and from here Betts provides a highly amusing portrayal of a family in complete disarray. It all begins when Amanda, Caroline’s agent, is told that a national newspaper has pictures of the cook falling out of a taxi drunk. Throw in a sprinkle of an unhappy marriage, a dash of an affair, a heavy amount of alcohol, and stir until your unhappy son comes home, afraid of what he must tell his parents.
As a new state of the nation play, Monogamy covers a broad range of social points, including: religion, marriage, science, Syria, depression, homosexuality, child carers, drug use and alcohol addiction. It is an impressive broth for sure. Yet enrichening the taste is a series of stunning performances. Janie Dee is a demanding and intelligent Caroline, both so absorbed in her own world and trying to be a good mother. Audiences watch as this ‘darling of middle England’ slowly unravels, boiling away the saccharine presenter at the beginning of the play as she continually drinks from a wine bottle. Yet Dee’s performance is made all the more emotional by Jack Archer, who plays her son, Leo. Together, the two capture the terse relationship of a mother that seems unable to listen and a son that needs to talk. Archer’s entrance as a just-graduated student from Oxford University is at first full of the annoyances children can have when returning home, but soon this is replaced by a wounded dignity as his parents continue not to listen to him. Leo wants to go and help refuges in Syria, yet his parents object to him going into a warzone. Certainly, the home of the Mortimer family is where the fighting happens. Leo’s father is Mike (Patrick Ryecart), whose musings on death as he ages blend with his decidedly older way of looking at the world, his mannerisms and comments reminiscent of Prince Philip. Recurrently emphasised is the strained relationship between Caroline and Mike, which has led the former to have an affair with handyman Graeme (Jack Sandle).
Genevieve Gaunt’s Amanda is also a sweet treat, often offering a light break from the heavy spectacle of watching a family break down on stage, and Charlie Brooks brings a damaged nervousness to Sally, a woman trying to save her marriage to Graeme. Leo is the brother of two sisters, and their absence is felt, especially since the excuse of them being at a sleepover does not feel adequate when Leo has returned to celebrate his graduation. That said, two more actors on the Park Theatre’s stage would feel crowded. Whilst all the performances in Monogamy are enjoyable, however, as a state of the nation play it jumps rather quickly through the topics listed above. A fuller bodied flavour is needed for the true social critique to come through; as such, in its extended treatment of both Leo’s sexuality and Sally’s psychiatric problems, act two provides a stronger sense of dramatizing the nation’s problems of not listening to those that need support.
As Monogamy progresses, Caroline continues to drink and by the end she is thoroughly inebriated. Ironically, Dee’s last performance was in Follies at the National Theatre (for which she was nominated for an Olivier award), which also demonstrated the effects of drinking over an evening. Now rendered through a culinary lens, Dee must piece together another broken marriage. It is a play firstly about family, but especially mothers: Mike’s mother died of lung cancer, Amanda had to care for her ill mother for the majority of her young life, and Leo now risks losing contact with Caroline. With Dee cooking up a storm as the lead, all the characters in Betts’s new play have moments when they elicit audience sympathy, but always for different reasons. In doing so, this piece offers a variety of reasons for why England might have a sore stomach. Monogamy elicits a series of different tastes and in its blend of tones between serious issues and light relief, garnished by a delectable cast, it certainly left me full.
Monogamy will be at the Park Theatre until the 7th July, 2018.