Imagine if women weren’t just stuck playing Juliet and Desdemona and Lady Macbeth over and over again. What if, beyond those most famous roles, they wouldn’t have to play countless mothers and sisters and lovers: sometimes nameless, more often simply shapeless. What if the really meaty roles hadn't been written for men at all? Cast Iron Theatre have brought back their Not Just The Companion evening of monologues, designed to show that great performance isn’t bound by gender. They’ve diced up some of the most recognisable dramatic monologues and dished them up for seven acting talents to sink their teeth into, and there's not a man in sight.
All seven performances are successful in quickly making you forget they were ever written for men.
All seven performances are successful in quickly making you forget they were ever written for men. In fact, during Emma Howarth’s rendition of Talk In The Park, I found myself suddenly quite surprised when her character confessed ‘if I had my choice, I’d be a woman’. Through her well timed performance, Howarth managed to bring warmth and humour to a monologue that could easily have wandered into something ordinary and dull.
Barbara Halsey and Debz Sebborn delivered sensitive performances, taken from The Glass Menagerie and Good Will Hunting respectively. Although both actors had wonderfully expressive faces that drew you into their story, they seemed to be somewhat lacking in direction, held back by an uncertainty of how to use the space shown through repetitive movements and abstract wandering around the stage.
Alex Louise clearly relished the opportunity to embody Henry V, although it took her a little while to warm up into the fiery heart of the role. After that, Chelsea Newton Mountney took on some classic Sorkin dialogue from the tv show Newsroom, rippling with snappy ripostes, and managed to deliver it at her own pace without losing the sardonic sharpness that defines Sorkin’s work.
Kaylee Nicholas closed the show with a cracking version of that speech from Network. Out of everyone, she sounded the least rehearsed; the words fell out of her mouth as if she’d just thought of them. Nicholas started by holding herself in apparent emotional agony at the disastrous nature of it all and ended with wide, circling arm movements, as she flailed with anger and disbelief. My only criticism would be that by the end she wasn’t quite as ‘mad as hell’ as she needed to be; she was just one step away from turning it up to eleven and really rocking the boat.
Star of the show was opener Emily Carding. Her assertive, self-assured Richard III stalked the stage and eyeballed the audience into submission. Her command of space was the best of the night, using the small stage and chair available to her full advantage. She was utterly convincing as the conniving would-be King, and portrayed his ambition with unexpected charm. Ending with a short burst from The Lion King’s I Just Can’t Wait To Be King was brilliant.
The monologues worked best when the performers chose to directly connect with the audience. Howarth and Carding were both excellent at using eye contact and gestures to bring us into their world; Carding even pulling a slightly reluctant audience member on stage with her. Louise and Newton Mountney were less successful when playing towards unseen spectators.
Costuming, although very basic, was well thought through. Louise’s unfussy black and grey attire was my particular favourite as it reflected a King in armour very effectively without having to wear a single piece of chainmail.
Although it was an enjoyable evening overall, I would have preferred for them to give a short introduction to the monologues. Most of the choices were extremely famous, but others were less so and to be thrown into the heat of the moment without any context at all was jarring at times. However, if Cast Iron Theatre were looking to prove that men don’t need to be centre stage anymore, they certainly achieved their goal.