“Seven Deadly Monologues. Unearthing the haunting side of sin in humanity.”
It’s a bold and ambitious statement; a provocation by playwright Benjamin Teh that dares his audience to enter into a lascivious exploration of all that is deeply sinful. Through seven monologues the immemorial pillars of sin (Lust, Envy, Pride, Wrath, Sloth, Gluttony and Greed) address the audience, each offering a modern glimpse into these hallmark traits.
Equipped with a talented cast and under the direction of Borni Te Rongopai Tukiwaho, Teh’s writing is given life through a series of highly personalised monologues, each tracing various key events, epiphanies and reflections.
But how does this all come together?
Beneath a series of erratically glowing light bulbs the set is highly realistic. The scene is set for a party. Not too flash: there are styrofoam paper cups, bottles of Coke and chippies dotted around but this isn’t a student flat. The living room is well furnished and lots of attention to detail is given. There are vivid pictures on the wall, carefully selected furniture, throws flung casually over the back of sofas – all contributing elements that give it real character. An Ibsen-esque or even Pinter-esque atmosphere is created, music spills over and the expectation is for a quasi-realistic drama to unfold.
When the story does begin we see a party in progress, but the music is too loud to hear the small talk and idle chit chat. It’s not a sound operating issue; in fact it’s highly structured. Each guest at this party, including one of the two hostesses, presents a deeply introspective monologue that is in intrinsically related to one of the seven deadly sins.
There is a rumble of thunder, lighting and a crash and the guardian (Donna Botha) drops what appears to be an orange ping-pong ball into a jar as each guest reveals a history that is in some way supposed to be symptomatic of the sin they represent.
This is not always very successful. However, if we put that qualifier of whether each individual monologue does successfully capture the magnitude of the evil with which they are supposed to be hallmarked aside, and focus solely on the narrative and delivery, then there is much good work here to be applauded.
Ben Moore and Jimmy Hazelwood are the standout performers of the evening followed closely by Marvin Silerio and Phoebe Borwick. These four individuals expose the vulnerability, depth, audacity and innuendo in Teh’s writing and offer striking performances under Tukiwaho’s direction.
Moore’s monologue is powerful and superbly delivered but has one frustrating fly in the ointment: it fails to capture the essence of what is indeed, ‘Slothful’. Hazelwood, who encapsulates ‘Lust’ is the other highlight of the night. In his case the sin he is prescribed does fully come to life and, thankfully, in imaginative ways that strike chords of comedy and tenderness.
Silerio too is delightfully disdainful and like Hazelwood engages the audience well, though his depiction of ‘Pride’ tends to veer every now and then into politics and polemics. Borwick is one of the few performers who has character throughout the whole hour, carrying herself with purpose and her ‘Envy’ story, while occasionally frustrating in the lack of clarity, is delivered with well-crafted intention and poise.
The other performers, Prateek Vadgaonkar, Albertine Jones and Emma-Mae Eglington are also good performers but their storylines are still in development. Eglington is very strong in her delivery and as ‘Gluttony’ she is one of the most engaging performers making use of the space and the available props – but her monologue is far too long and becomes repetitive. Similarly, Vadgaonkar effortlessly combines his multilingualism seamlessly into his narrative (a real highlight) but the actual drive to bring down ‘Wrath’ doesn’t quite hit the marks.
Jonas, as ‘Greed’, is perhaps the least convincing, not necessarily because of her performance but because her monologue wavers both in content and presentation between affected and clichéd – and child abuse isn’t funny under any circumstances.
Teh’s writing has much potential, he is pushing and exploring new ways to provoke and some of the monologues are very good; others simply need to be explored further. The party as a device simply doesn’t work as a frame to hold the individual monologues together – there is hardly any interaction and the audience is left waiting and wondering who’s next as the format becomes immediate after the first two monologues. The sound effects are distracting and then irritating as any element of surprise quickly vanishes.
Tukiwaho does a good job in individually directing performers and brings out some excellent moments that are very memorable. Overall, there simply isn’t any drama that holds the work together; there is no urgency, no protagonist that we love to hate, and unfortunately, no denouement.
It really is a set of seven very different monologues, of varying quality and strength and on those terms, it is a very good monologue show – it just has a way to go before it takes flight as a cohesive and coherent drama.