ETCETERA THEATRE, CAMDEN
The comedy is black and bleak in these three short pieces about lives with an entire absence of joy.
Monologues are extremely exposing both for writers and actors, but they can also be engaging and moving theatrical experiences.
Velvet Trumpet’s production of JOY presents three individual monologues, written with darkly comic intensity by Thomas Jones and Nikolai Ribnikov. Each examines the bleak, tormented lives of men whose circumstances or characters have left them struggling to cope.
Jones plays one of the roles himself – Thames river police officer Roger, who has come to talk to a primary school about his work on the water.
Roger is just managing to contain his pent-up ball of frustrated energy and anger as he paints a grim picture to the kids of the drownings, the suffocated geese, the lost pets – and worst of all, the goings-on behind the curtains in the iniquitous party boats.
Thomas Jones’ punchy, sharp delivery demonstrates a real comic gift, and he gets the best laughs of the night. But the idea that he would get as far as discussing condoms and sex by the waterside in a primary school is far-fetched enough – let alone telling the kids about what happens to him aboard one of those wicked boats. Roger’s story could easily be translated into a talk given to an unsuitable adult audience – the WI perhaps – which would leave us with all the skill of the performance and none of the queasy feeling.
Toast is played by Jon Cottrell as Michael, who’s been chucked out by his wife and lives with his brother. Seething with bitterness, he finds comfort and some joy at least in toast, his favourite food. The premise of this monologue – Michael’s unusual new love interest – is not really strong enough to sustain it, but Cottrell is edgy and intense as miserable Michael, and does some clever work with audience participation.
Simon Grujich takes us to the end of the line as Phil, the mole-like tube-train driver whose narrative takes place on a southbound Bakerloo trip. Phil’s physical and emotional disintegration as the journey progresses is superbly managed by Grujich, whose increasingly wild announcements make you glad he isn’t operating the train home from Camden Town tonight. This is the most tightly written of the three pieces, packing an entire life’s misery into twenty minutes.
These lonely, washed-up lives leave little hope for redemption for any of the joyless men. If some of the writing isn’t quite as refined as it might be, there’s nevertheless a rich talent behind Jones and Ribnikov’s partnership, with three gripping performances. Good stuff.
•Until 22 February, 9.30pm, 8.30pm Sunday
http://www.etceteratheatre.com 0207 482 4857