Spiders by Night: A Double Bill of Exciting New Monologues

Spiders by Night is one of the more intimate Fringe shows: two monologues about spiders and mental health difficulties. Though sometimes lacking in power, both were extremely well-acted and the unusual writing took me to places I wasn’t expecting to go.

the spectre of madness hovers ever closer, but a vein of bizarre comedy prevents either piece from becoming bleak

The show is a co-production between Stepping Out Theatre and Coffee House Theatre, two community-based companies where artists with mental health or addiction issues collaborate with professional actors and directors. Both monologues have an eerie atmosphere with the spectre of madness hovering ever closer, but a vein of bizarre comedy prevents either piece from becoming bleak.

The first monologue, "Waiting for Ison", charts Simon’s (Mark Breckon) obsession with a distant comet, and his slackening grip on reality as he isolates himself in his attic. Breckon gives an understated performance, and his delivery allows Simon’s increasingly odd behaviour to be both comedic and disturbing. Emma Stadon’s writing really comes to life in the romantic language used to describe Ison, giving Simon’s infatuation an air of profundity despite its origin in a troubled mind. The highlight of the piece, in which the comet whispers back to Simon as it approaches the sun, is incredibly poetic and brought to life by well-judged changes in lighting.

The second piece, Katherine Melmore’s "Insiders", is even better, describing a mental health patient’s Kafkaesque transformation into a spider. The writing is incredibly immersive and sensual, and was brought to life by Joanna Smith’s excited delivery (she shares the role with Stadon, and they alternate on different nights). The monologue describes the protagonist’s sensations after her transformation with disarming detail, from moving on eight legs to devouring a fly. Smith’s magnetic eyes, and the clever use of crutches to portray her new body, meant I saw through the spider’s eyes and was captivated by its every movement. Despite the small stage, she didn’t shy away from the spider’s strange physicality.

The two monologues offer a different experience from a lot of Fringe shows. Though unlikely to inspire much strong emotion or offer a radically new perspective on mental health issues, both pieces wrap the audience in their haunting atmosphere and revel in their own oddness.

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The Blurb

A double bill of exciting new monologues. Waiting for ISON: Set in an attic, one man follows the comet ISON, becoming enthralled. Living in this one room, the isolation does strange things to his sanity. Losing his grip on reality, he befriends a family of spiders. Insider: Fearing supernatural malice, a young woman transforms into a spider on the ceiling of the same psychiatric ward where she had recently been held. She manoeuvres and explores her new world, finding herself trapped, whether human or not.

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