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Aisling O'Mara as Nell in Monster? Photo by Bryan Meade


A beast without burden

It's sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll down the local pub in Emily Gillmor Murphy’s latest play, the ambitious, but misguided, “Monster?” For the sex isn't great, the drugs don't work, and there’s very little rock 'n' roll in what is a surprisingly lacklustre and unconvincing script. What rock 'n' roll there is comes from some first-rate direction and three excellent performances. Dealing in, and feeling like, the aftermath of a one night stand, with little of the thrill that got you there in the first place, “Monster?” features far too much filler and not enough thriller. The result is a lightweight script redeemed by a heavyweight director and cast, each digging deep to craft a production with some genuinely enjoyable moments.

“Monster’s?” unconvincing narrative follows the passionate, free-spirited Nell who finds herself pregnant after a drunken moment of weakness and a one night stand. Her non-maternal nature rises to the surface making Nell doubly convinced of her monstrousness. She doesn’t want the fairy tale of hubby and kid and white picket fence, and doesn’t really want the baby inside her. Her suitor and inseminator, Adam, a baby Garda straight out of Crumlin getting bullied by all the boys, thinks they have a chance together. Her workmate Ru, the boy who loves both girls and boys, along with beautiful things and a snort of cocaine, has another solution. In the end it’s all about choice, even when you supposedly don’t have a choice.

Michael Glenn Murphy as Ru in Monster? Photo by Bryan meade

Murphy’s central premise of a free-spirited woman concerned she is monstrous because she doesn’t want to have a child is hard to buy into as it’s never convincingly developed. A position made weaker by the unsuccessful efforts to give credibility to the position that Nell has no other choice but to become a mother. At least two obvious options come to mind, the first Murphy dismisses unconvincingly, the second becomes the solution. This lends the whole a feeling of being under developed and weak, with points insufficiently expanded or explored, but repeated constantly, like fake news, as if saying them enough times will make them true. All of which undermines an already thin narrative, which is padded out with backstories, fairy stories or character descriptions, which have little or no meaningful impact on what’s happening directly on stage, trying to deliver up some deeper sense of substance, but it just isn't there.

In the hands of a lesser director, this could have been a disaster. But Karl Shiels extracts every ounce of theatrical potential from “Monster?” with a delightfully visual, cocaine and sex fuelled opening sequence being stunningly realised. Shiels also shows he’s more than adept at casting. Aisling O’Mara takes the unconvincing Nell and makes her extremely engaging, drawing sympathy at times from the driest of wells. Michael Glenn Murphy turns in an outstanding performance as the overtly camp Ru, elevating what could have been a caricature into something genuinely moving. Jamie O’Neill as the innocent abroad, Adam, is utterly engaging and credible throughout. If, on occasion, the cast skate a little too close to emotionally overcompensating for what should be there, but isn’t, under Shiels’ direction they forage deep to try bring every moment to life. A life that spills into Lisa Krugel’s excellent set design, scattered with an array of vital little details, which Eoin Stapleton’s lighting design compliments perfectly.

Aisling O'Mara as Nell and Jamie O'Neill as Adam in Monster? Photo by Bryan Meade

With “Monster?” Murphy ventures into the topical area of a woman’s choice, or lack of, over her own body, the central issue surrounding Repeal the 8th. But thematically, and narratively, she does not go far or deep enough, with her script lacking that burden of conviction. Murphy’s star is certainly in the ascendant, and deservedly so, but “Monster?” is not her finest moment. Here’s hoping she returns with a script worthy of her talent, her director and her cast, the latter ensuring “Monster?” delivers some genuinely enjoyable and memorable moments.

“Monster?” By Emily Gillmor Murphy, presented by EGM Productions in association with Theatre Upstairs, runs at Theatre Upstairs until April 29th

For more information, visit Theatre Upstairs

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