Good things come in pairs and Eight is no exception. The Thursday/Friday set of monologues have a different flavour to that of Part 1, successfully pursuing a more comic vein while exploring the age-old tension between how things appear and how they really are when you scratch the surface.
The play springs into life with Jude, played with panache by Lloyd Houston. In this tale of a summer of sexual awakening and an alluring older woman, Houston’s Jude is no Benjamin Braddock. With bounding energy, Houston carries off the cocky, thrusting charm of the libidinous adolescent to comedic perfection, provoking belly laughs from his audience. However, the laughs stop as his monologue becomes a more nuanced meditation on youth and age, and the disparity between desire and its fulfilment. His body quivering with jealousy and rage, Houston powerfully conveys the grubbiness of sexual disillusionment.
Eyes glittering with the wicked pleasure of ‘getting away with’ a night spent cheating on her boyfriend, Astrid (Georgina Hellier) totters onto the stage. Providing a comically inebriated but painfully accurate Attenborough-style running commentary on her sleeping boyfriend’s snoring, Hellier builds a conspiratorial rapport with her audience. Yet beneath the unabashed avowal lies a more painful truth. As Hellier’s voice drops, we glimpse the confusion of a woman behaving in the same way as the man who broke her heart. Being naughty is really a way of not being ‘invisible’ again, and Hellier conveys the complex knot of emotions that binds Astrid into a cycle of seemingly getting away with it, whilst in fact providing her own punishment.
The theme of bodies and physical interaction continues in unsettling fashion. The character of Danny is perhaps the most challenging of the monologues, but it is a role with which Jo Allan deals very well. Demonstrating brash gaucheness, laddish humour, and tenderness with the corpses he prepares for anatomy lessons, Allan turns Danny into a disturbingly intense, but ultimately gentle ex-soldier, who is more aware than most of the fragility of that most wondrous piece of engineering, the human body.
If these three monologues are about the gritty reality of bodies, the final monologue is about rediscovering magic. Playing Bobby, Phoebe Hames’ magic is a potent blend of earthy humour and broad Glaswegian. This single mother’s experiences assisting a Mary Berry-type grandmother are recounted with tremendous warmth and conviction. Hames knows how to capture the audience’s heart as she sensitively portrays Bobby’s sense of having failed in some way at life, and her steady resolve to make Christmas ‘magic’ for her children, because “that’s what mothers do”.
Indeed, what stands out in both Eight productions is their humanity and the privileged connection forged between actor and audience. As Danny puts it: “When someone’s willing to sit with you, all exposed and vulnerable […] it makes you want to share.” Moving, witty, and with at least one future star in Christopher Adams (Pt.1), I challenge you to find a better student production this year.
***** 5 STARS