14 June 2018
Monogamy (a play by Torben Betts)
The Park Theatre
reviewed by Adam McCormack
Star Rating: ****
Caroline Mortimer is a woman that apparently has it all. A celebrity TV chef (the nation’s second favorite domestic goddess), married with 3 children (including a son who has just graduated with a first from Oxford), living in a huge house in North London. We meet her as she and her assistant are completing rehearsals in her kitchen for the next show. The multitasking Caroline is effortlessly making a celebratory meal ready for her husband and graduate son, while managing her TV career with her assistant and household issues with her builder. However, beneath the superficial domestic bliss lurks a myriad of neuroses, and unresolved issues that threaten to boil over quicker than an unwatched saucepan. Caroline’s marriage is an apparent sham, with her golf obsessed husband an unmitigated womaniser. Further, she has a drinking problem and the Daily Mail has secured photos of her sprawled on the floor after a night out, details of which have been secured by the manic cocaine-addicted assistant. On top of all that, her relationship with her builder seems to go beyond purely business.
If this all sounds farcical that is because it is. Monogamy is a comedy that takes farce into the twenty-first century – think of it as Brain Rix and Ray Cooney meeting Sam Peckinpah or Quentin Tarantino. As the evening unfolds, the number of issues and level of drama intensifies continually. Her husband returns after a day on the golf course that has left him contemplating his own mortality, prompting a wave of remorse. Her son declares a desire to go to Syria to help refugees and has a confession to make. Add to this the builder lurking, it seems for more than just his bill, and a woman who is apparently there to view the house (which is being sold), but who has an alarming interest in Caroline’s kitchen knives. As a summer storm develops outside, the drama inside reaches a hilarious and bloody crescendo.
The issue with this comedy is that, despite having some hilarious dialogue, there are just too many issues. The central theme of how a woman who is held up as a paragon of perfect domesticity gradually disintegrates, as the truth emerges, is one that has some obvious real world parallels and is a compelling comedic vehicle. However, including so many subsidiary issues undermines the theme. Every single character has a myriad of problems to contend with and there is a danger that Monogamy becomes a checklist of every middle class malaise. To a large extent a cast of the highest quality redeems this. Janie Dee excels as Caroline, and Patrick Ryecart is the perfect composite caricature of philandering, boorish golf club misogynist. An examination of how a woman can cope with being loyal to her audience, her husband, her children and her god – staying true and monogamous to each – is one worthy of high comedy which this production manages to achieve, but only just.