‘Mrs. Koma is coming’

As we approach Halloween we expect monsters. It is an interesting choice of calendar for La Mama’s production of ‘Monologue for a Murderer’ because it unfairly contextualises the performance. This play is sincere, intelligent, and emotional. It would have been far too easy to sensationalise this story, and with something so sensitive (and frighteningly relevant) any misstep with the content could have tipped into exploitation but the production company ‘Always Working Artists’ know what they are doing and show reflection and restraint in bringing us a terror with different claws.

Playwright Kate Rice wrote this as a response to the Erfurt massacre of 2002. As part of her PhD she was in Germany for the 10th anniversary remembrance of the school shootings. Initially the idea was to interview some of the people but awareness intervened and instead Kate wrote a reflection to the incident which incorporates a response to that response and this is where Rice is most interesting. It is difficult to bring something new to this type of narrative and structurally Rice doesn’t try. The knee-jerk eisteddfod response is to humanise the killer and somewhere this type of thinking would have been revolutionary. The script also features the yawn-worthy conceit of a conversation between ghosts of the event which is so often employed it could well be a genre unto itself. The strength of the text is insight and the strong display of the scriptwrighter’s craft.

The script is an examination of the entire body that is the Erfurt massacre. For this dissection, the script uses every kind of tool from naturalism to dialectical theatre. This sophisticated script draws the viewer in to the drama to the point of emotional distress and then hurls the audience to a Brechtian distance where they can view the action objectively. This play engages both the heart and the head and uses the different techniques to communicate in both modes effectively.  Through the assured examination and the confident moments of humanity the strengths of the writing is seen. The script is clever, considered, honest, and human.

This display of technique is conveyed through the direction of Jeremy Rice (same surname, interesting). With the different approaches combining in the script, Jeremy uses matching directorial techniques to find what is being said at any one time and the best way to say it. Not that anything seems disjointed but rather the entire production feels complex. One can imagine a lot of communication between the writer and the director as they are both in synch and thinking the same thing at the same time. This can be seen with the smooth transition in tone through the play. The director shows an sensitive understanding of the text which carries through the production.

The cast served as an interesting extension of the technical aspects of the script while also finding the human connection in a concept. In a play that goes between thought and feeling so freely, the cast holds a fluid characterisation where both as thought and feeling these characters are well defined. Well-defined fluidity? How about affective naturalism? If that’s a problem then let’s try deep complexity where a character can be a concept to the point of archetype but also be emotionally true. 

This same discipline is seen in the whole design as the lighting and sound design also display an encyclopaedic skill-set. When the production works together it is exhilarating to see what theatre can do. The production design and the actors work together switching effortlessly between styles under confident direction for a script that knows what scripts can achieve. Everyone is saying the same thing and while it is something that has been said many times before it hasn’t been said in this way or with this level of awareness.

‘Monologue for a Murderer’ is complex and expects the audience to keep up. The subject matter could have been reduced to emotive and ham-fisted theatrics but it is always smart, even on those rare moments when it teeters on the edge of eisteddfod. But this presentation takes a careful and multi-faceted approach to a sensitive topic of investigation. Regardless of the timing, this is timeless.

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