Fringe Theatre Reviews: Monologues

In this review of Edinburgh Fringe theatre, we take a look at the world of monologues, including Henry Naylor's Echoes, Since Maggie Went Away and Acts of Redemption

Feature by Cat Acheson | 21 Aug 2015

If you’re going to write about teen Jihadist brides, you really have to do it with more sensitivity and depth than Henry Naylor does in Echoes [★★☆☆☆]. The play parallels the lives of two women from the same English town 175 years apart, as they each travel to Afghanistan to do their ideological duty – one to marry a lieutenant in the British Empire, one to marry a Jihadist fighter in the present day. Despite this initially intriguing concept and despite the skill of the actors, the play has some major shortcomings.    

The script cheapens the experiences of women in these situations, even while trying to advocate female empowerment. Sensationalized violence, corny dialogue  and plotlines that veer sharply away from plausible lived experience into shock-value revenge fantasies all suggest that Naylor has spent too much time watching Quentin Tarantino films, and not enough time considering the question of what makes him the right person to attempt to formulate a progressive and compassionate response to subjects ranging from Colonial oppression to misogynistic violence and Islamic fundamentalism.  

Humour has the potential to be used effectively as a means of tapping in to the play’s gritty subject matter, and there are some signs of this toward the beginning, particularly with the incisive conceit: 'I was groomed for Jihad by Nigel Farage.' But such uses of illuminating satirical humour are soon superseded by trivial and ill-timed gags that are increasingly uncomfortable given the nature of the material. The horrific sacrifices of both characters seem gratuitous – the intersecting horrors could easily have spoken for themselves, and it’s demeaning to victims of these ideologies to have their experiences exploited for cheap emotional impact.

Fortunately, Ballydam Theatre’s Jacqueline Nolan shows that all hope is not lost when it comes to using monologue to tackle dark and harrowing subject matter. In Since Maggie Went Away [★★★★☆], Nolan tells the deeply affecting story of Maggie, an Irish country girl who is forced to give her baby to a Catholic orphanage in 1949. Decades later, Maggie’s daughter discovers that she has a brother, and takes us through her journey to make sense of this discovery and what it means for her family.

Against the backdrop of a bare stage with just a couple of chairs as props, Nolan alternates between portraying her mother, her younger self and her brother on the day that they first meet, developing each of these narratives to build a well-realised picture of a tragedy spanning over 50 years. The structure is a little loose, and some of the sections are awkwardly thrown together, but Nolan deals sensitively with the idea of victimhood without being patronising or presumptuous, and in this quiet manner conveys the horror of the abuse suffered in Catholic institutions without allowing it to dominate the performance, leaving plenty of room for the play’s message of hope and redemption.

Unrestricted View continue with this theme in Acts of Redemption [★★★☆☆]. Written by Ken Jaworowski, this series of short and sharp monologues is accessible and appealing. None of the monologues are earth-shattering, but there’s something quite satisfying about these staccato stories of the everyday struggles of individuals who grapple with self-identity and personal relationships. The talent of the actors carries the production, delivering an impressive variety of emotions from heartbreak to euphoria with no shortage of humour thrown into the mix. However, despite the unifying theme, the production feels disjointed and lacks direction, making it oddly reminiscent of a high school drama showcase, albeit of a higher standard.       

Echoes, Gilded Balloon, 'til 31 August, 17:30, £12:50/£11:50

Since Maggie Went Away, The Space on the Mile, run ended

Acts of Redemption, Underbelly Cowgate, 'til 30 August, 3:20, £9:50/£10.50