This week The Bike Shed Theatre in Exeter is hosting Josh’s Monsters, an utterly compelling new drama from celebrated North Devon company Multistory. My attendance at yesternight’s opening was a challenging but fulfilling experience.
Entrance into the intimate play room at the Bike Shed was instantaneous immersion into the world(s) of the two characters. Two computer stations had been arranged in opposite corners of the theatre with large screens displaying what was happening on one of the PC screens. Meanwhile, the audience was arranged in circles around tables bearing plates of home-made cakes. As the action of the play then commenced, it became clear that the entire room was being exploited as a story-telling tool.
I mentioned the word “immersive” and this is the perfect adjective to describe it. The two actors positioned themselves at each of the computers so that, with the arrangement of the screens, the action of the play was unfolding on all sides of the audience. It was established that the two protagonists were husband and wife, and yet were accustomed to spending their time in different parts of the house communicating through web cameras and microphones. As a concept this was clearly intended to mirror the paradoxical but increasingly common condition of our times: isolation and dislocation in a world where all so much of the globe and its history can be accessed at the click of the mouse.
As the play progressed, its second central theme emerged. The younger son of the two protagonists was imminently returning to Afghanistan for a second tour, and the examination of war and our contradictory attitudes towards it were subsequently dissected and exposed as the couple reflected, reminisced and articulated a series of poignant and touching stories for their respective and communal pasts as another key theme of the play.
It is impossible to do justice in this review to the play’s extraordinary scope and depth. The fact that in spite of this the play held together so well was due to its high standard of writing and, more importantly, some exceptional acting from the two leads. The power of their performances, despite the fact that they hardly moved from their computer consoles during the whole play was extremely impressive.
The writing of Josh’s Monsters was commissioned by Barnstaple Museum and was directly inspired by the accounts of servicemen and women in the Middle East. As I was leaving the theatre I overheard a lady thanking the principal actress profusely and explaining that she was herself the mother of a British soldier in Afghanistan. I found this an extremely powerful confirmation of the play’s success in capturing a very real, very topical and very timeless truth… and in the end, isn’t that the highest that any and all art can aspire to?
Josh’s Monsters is at The Bike Shed Theatre until Saturday, February 26, Tickets £10.
- The Dumb Waiter at The Bike Shed Theatre: relentless escalating tension and commanding performances - April 21, 2011
- Josh’s Monsters at The Bike Shed Theatre is intimate, immersive and utterly compelling - February 22, 2011
- Cul-De-Sac at The Bike Shed Theatre, Exeter, explores real human emotion in the face of a crisis - February 2, 2011