Monster, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

I didn’t have any particular expectations from Joe Sellman-Leava’s new play on male violence. But I am joyfully surprised by an opening montage of rapidly-delivered Shakespeare, ranging from Othello to Taming of the Shrew. Disarmingly vicious in its delivery, this scene snaps into an audition for a play, then a house in Exeter, then the video research material for Joe’s character, and back again.

Though it takes a touch too long to emerge, the story documents an actor’s personal relationship with a woman he meets outside the pub next door to his house. This narrative is interspersed with the rehearsal process for a play on abusive relationships, with a creative team that mirrors the story. In addition, there’s a third layer. The research Joe conducts for his character in the unnamed play – Mike Tyson and Patrick Stewart interviews – increasingly infiltrate his work and home life.

Sellman-Leava cinematically flicks between these three narrative threads at a relentless pace. Though dramaturgically watertight, the speed and style needs time to adjust to. These threads twist around a shared theme with implications in Joe’s personal and work lives, and the wider world’s views on male violence and feminism. Though it’s not an aggressive take on important issues, it resonates with its poignancy and inner conflict.

An extraordinary performer, Sellman-Leava differentiates a good half dozen characters primarily with his voice. Uncanny impressions and a wide pitch range immediately indicate who’s who even with his lightening-fast transitions. His piercing intensity is a great contrast to vulnerable bewilderment and upset.

Despite the initial pace issues, there’s little to fault with this new play that’s been long in development. Worklight Theatre’s initial success with Labels is going strong, and Sellman-Leava is a performer that deserves to be widely seen.

Monster runs through 28 August.

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