Elysium is a theatre company based in the North East of England. Their previous productions include The River by Jez Butterworth at the City Theatre in Durham and Miss Julie at the Gala. One of their latest projects is The Covid-19 Monologues, a set of five performances filmed by masked cameramen from a safe distance. Directed virtually by Jake Murray and filmed and edited by Andrew Glassford, the monologues are varied and compelling. I highly recommend them to anyone looking for a theatre fix.
The first monologue is One of a Kind by Rachael Halliwell. The speaker is Diane from Sunderland; she is played by Sarah Boulter, who is sitting, dressed in black, in a rain-spattered car. As the monologue unfolds, we learn that Diane is a local reporter who was furloughed when the pandemic hit. After lengthy tests, she started to volunteer in a care-home to be closer to her father.
Despite the close proximity of the camera, Boulter speaks very naturally and candidly. Every line sounds off the cuff. She is highly expressive and captures Diane’s range of emotions extremely well: her total exhaustion; her surprise as she says she actually really enjoys working in care; her panic when she thinks she might have overstepped the mark in responding to Claire’s chirpiness; her fierce sense of frustration at the inadequacy of clapping for NHS staff on Thursday nights and at the fact that care-homes are ‘on their knees’.
When Diane talks about her dad, Boulter gives her a poignant tenderness and flashes an infectious beam. She creates a character we root for and feel attached to, which makes the second half of the monologue affecting and hard-hitting.
The next monologue is Push Yourself, Slightly by Chris Dance. Amy Gavin plays Jane from Manchester in this tongue-in-cheek piece.
Jane, luminous in a neon pink top and a matching scrunchie, is a ‘Wellness Consultant’, a term she admits simultaneously means lots of things and nothing at all. The blunter way of describing her work is ‘demotivational speaking’. Frustrated by cheesy, ultra-inspiring quotes from fridge magnets, cushion covers, and celebrities, Jane is coaching a more realistic outlook on life to the ‘chronically over-confident’. The monologue essentially takes the form of a vlog: we become the recipients of Jane’s unorthodox pep talk.
‘There’s too much baseless optimism in the world these days’, Jane tells us, and ‘it’s making people unhappy.’ Jane previously fancied herself an inventor. Encouraged by the subjective praise of friends and family, she tried pitching to stores ideas for products like magnetic bikinis, inflatable lawnmowers and ambulance-ringing slippers for pensioners. She wishes someone had been more honest with her and saved her from humiliation.
As Jane, Gavin is eminently watchable. She makes Jane so chatty and animated that we instantly warm to this witty character, whether she is expressing outrage over train passengers eating oranges and Doritos or explaining how executives crumble as she examines just how incompetent they really are. Gavin’s expressions as she tells us that she was made in the Mendips by Bernard and Jean – her dad ‘loved the poached eggs’ at breakfast – are perfect. There is so much humour in Dance’s script and Gavin brings all of it out, making the most of every paragraph. Jane’s imagined interaction with a certain politician at the end is particularly entertaining: ‘Honestly… you haven’t got this’.
Amusing, engrossing and memorable, this monologue is a real treat to watch.
The third monologue in the series is The Moth by Paul Herzberg, which stars Victor Power as John from London. I do not wish to give too much away about the reason for its title or its plot, other than to say it focuses on a lengthy train journey in the mid-90s in which a stranger, a white South African, opens up to John. He tells John a story he has revealed to no one else.
The monologue is powerful from its first moments to its last ones. In the opening, John states that as a child he was deeply unsettled by the 1959 film The Nun’s Story. If he tells his tale, he says, we may ‘end up like the 10-year-old’ him – ‘Can you handle that?’ The question is a brilliant way to reel the audience in. Of course we want to hear it now.
Herzberg’s writing is hauntingly vivid, whether he is describing a flying creature soaring or a man sawing. Coupled with Power’s gravitas and his mixture of rage and wonder, the piece becomes truly riveting. It is so intense that it is impossible to look away and so moving that it will leave you thinking about it long after the last words have been spoken.
The Covid-19 Monologues are available on Youtube at the following link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCs7xL1Azzgnu0VkU1odZ5Qw?fbclid=IwAR0pGYIwOt-LQJf_4SZ6n5yU8z7F0JwzvoI6I4Xin-i6aFvJQVG9eyg7ZbA. Reviews of the fourth and fifth monologues will be available soon.
Image: Elysium Theatre Company.