New writing evenings are very popular in London, so it’s always interesting to hear about one with a bit of a difference. Monorogue brings writers and actors that work together to create the show concept, linking monologues under a common theme, as well as writing and performing their own pieces. It’s proved very successful, produced a following of fans and is now performing its sixth show in April at the Old Red Lion Theatre.
I caught up with four of the team behind the show – Geraldine Brennan, Angela Harvey, Laurie Stevens and Michael Luke Walsh – just before a production meeting, to find out more about the upcoming show and how it all initially came together:
Give me a bit of background about Monorogue – it’s now in its sixth show, but where did it start?
Geraldine: A few of us were in a workshop class together and got on really well doing some Chekhov and Genet scenes. So, we thought we’d do a play, but then we realised how much work that was and decided on a monologue instead. We saw that there are tons of new writing nights around and thought, “What could we do that would really make it entertaining and different?”
It wasn’t all new writing at first. In the very first one we did, some did their own pieces and some just did monologues that they liked. But we decided then to have it all new writing and did that from the second show onwards.
Laurie: It’s like a character comedy night that’s taken a slightly dark turn into its own fictional world. We have a compère at the centre, to tie everything together – that’s what really encouraged us to create a whole world around the pieces. Then it became a necessity to have our own writing because we were creating more than a discrete set of monologues that didn’t really gel. For example, with Seven Deadly Sins, we had a courtroom and seven of us wrote a monologue for each sin. The judge eased the audience into the world, put us all on trial and the audience were the jury. So, then it becomes more of a cohesive world where you get told different people’s stories in the same setting.
We then did a Christmas one, Elf Off, where the mainly scripted compère was an elf interviewing human candidates for a job in Lapland. The audience were other elves voting on who they wanted to have the job. The world had become more detailed so we had more initial background discussions – were we flown to Lapland? Do we have to believe in Santa? It made sure everything knitted together.
Geraldine: In that one we all had a clear idea of what Santa and the elves were doing. In this one, we’ve all seen different crap game shows – I remember The Generation Game, with the conveyor belt, others remember The Price Is Right or Countdown. We’ve got two charming hosts, some catchphrases and several special contraptions on stage. It’s a game show hanging on by the skin of its teeth, the budget is pretty small, the presenters and guests are there because they all need the money. Some of them don’t even realise why, they’ve been nominated by friends and family.
The title of the show may give the game away, but we are reinventing the wheel!
Does the show concept come first before the text? Or had one of you written a monologue that informed the idea around the game show?
Laurie: As a group, we often start with the concept and then it evolves. We had a few ideas in mind – Wheel of Misfortune was thought of a while ago, so everyone was chewing over it and thinking about it by the time we had finished our Christmas show. We’ve also collectively evolved a tone, where most of the monologues are darkly comic with the occasional straight comedy and the occasional heavier piece.
Angela: This one didn’t quite fit in last year. Some of the shows had to be timed, such as Elf Off at Christmas or Valentine’s or Halloween.
Geraldine: When we did our Valentine’s show we couldn’t get a venue on or before 14 February. We got a venue on the 15th so we called it The Morning After, set in The Morning After Clinic with a receptionist called Aphrodite and all the clients coming in to see the love doctor. The monologues could be about anything, maybe relationships going wrong – everybody’s got one of those, haven’t they?
Does anyone prefer writing over acting after doing Monorogue?
Geraldine: I do like writing – it’s my comfort zone in a way. I like the way we can do relatively short term projects; from thinking about it to doing it tends to be 10-12 weeks. You’re not putting it away for years and never get to the end, you get to do a fairly short term thing with the people that you like. It’s really nice to be in the Old Red Lion too, we’ve been there a few times now.
Laurie: I like that we can all give each other feedback on our writing in a safe and friendly environment. Everyone is very sensitive, respectful and considerate. There is a sense of working towards something with the knowledge that the recipient doesn’t have to take it on board.
Michael: Seven or eight actors telling each other what to do normally would be a nightmare, but this actually seems to work quite well.
Are there any ideas floating around for after Wheel Of Misfortune?
Michael: We’re thinking of revisiting some shows that we did in the past but that didn’t have new writing. For example, we had a Halloween one that we could bring back. I was the compère for that one, a creepy primary school teacher, a vampiric sort. The lovechild of Franknfurter and The Child Catcher.
Laurie: Now that we invest more in the overall world, I can see that show would end up in a great way with a little Rocky Horror twist to it.
Quick-fire round time! What is everybody’s favourite gameshow?
Geraldine: From my youth, Take Your Pick! I go right back to my childhood, in mum and dad’s living room eating cheesy snacks and drinking E-number squash.
Michael: I’ve been watching lots of old YouTube clips and my favourite now is The Price Is Right with Leslie Crowther. It was so cheesy – they’d introduce all the women first, then he comes out and does his little skit and the audience go mental.
Laurie: I think Catchphrase because that was one where you can do quite well. My favourite thing about gameshows is that awkward wave, when people have to wave for a really long time as they wait for the camera to pan to them.
Angela: 321 with Dusty Bin! The prize of a bin was ridiculous.
What is your favourite Monorogues production?
Geraldine: Seven Deadly Sins was the one where I thought everything had come together – a strong linking story, people liked it, we got reviewers in for the first time, it was in a good venue. It made me realise that this was a goer, it worked.
Michael: I liked Elf Off, it felt that the audience were really into it. The bizarreness of it meant that everything didn’t matter, it fitted. We had an amazing set too.
Laurie: I like that now we are at the Old Red Lion and honing it every time, they just get better and better. So, I really want to say Wheel Of Misfortune but it’s not happened yet!
Angela: I did like Elf Off but also The Morning After – I got to be a nun, which was quite funny. My character was a bit bereft that her and her husband had to dress up as their favourite shows and do all the love scenes.
Who is your inspiration for being in theatre?
Geraldine: I can’t choose between Victoria Wood and Imelda Staunton. It’s been so sad to lose Victoria Wood but great to see her stuff back on TV again in memory.
Angela: Someone like Julie Walters or Robin Williams who can do both comedy and serious acting – I love the idea that you can do both that well.
Laurie: That’s my reason for mine too, which would be Emma Thompson. She does so much great comedy but also has such versatility. And they all write as well.
Michael: Mine is my drama teacher at school. I always loved drama but I was really shy and wouldn’t put myself forward. I was in the choir and then happened to do some acting because they needed somebody. One day she picked me out and said,
“You’re really good at this. You should do more.”
Wheel of Misfortune plays Old Red Lion Theatre on 23 – 25 April. For more information and to book tickets, visit the website.