A trio of monologues anchored by the motifs of insanity and fruit had the potential to be nauseatingly pretentious and boring. Remarkably, the deranged ramblings forming The Polycephaly Monologues contained enough comedy, and offered a piercing reflection on the human mind, to remain peculiarly gripping throughout.
Despite there being no perceptible narrative or personal relationships linking the three sections, each complimented each other well in this new piece of writing by Oxford student Nick Smart. The first monologue featured a particularly tormented soul mourning a lost lover while ferociously devouring a rather unappetizing plum pudding, though I am not sure what the two had to do with each other. The frenzied display, including a rendition of ‘plum pudding on fire, your defense is terrified’, stuns the audience, though there is not any particular sense to it. The second character is again broken by love. Her partner’s unfaithfulness has brought her to a state of sardonic rage, yet she seems much closer to reality than her predecessor. This closeness, and her reflections on domesticity, jealousy, and standards of female beauty, produces a more relatable performance. It is less clear what has brought the final character to their madness. His segment interweaves musings on cranberries with an extremely physical performance culminating in apparent suicide.
The writing does well to merge the deliberate shock tactics of crazed fruit talk with more comprehensible, and often humorous, statements on human psychology and existentialism. However, given these more relatable sections are the highlights of the writing I feel the fruit talk could have dominated less. That said, removing too much of this could cause this unique writing to lose its purposefully confusing essence, which despite its incomprehensibility, certainly kept my attention.
The actors believably provided three very different portrayals of madness, managing to carve a genuine character out of a script lacking any easy clues as to what that character could be. The performances admirably captured the main theme, doing madness well, though they perhaps lacked a subtlety in their attempts to do so. I particularly enjoyed the use of space, with the heartbroken former housewife’s stationary performance at her mirror punctuating the aggressive actions of the other actors in the first and third monologues.
The costume and set were suitably disconcerting. The color of the red fruit piercing the dark background, the plum-stained vest, the mess of curly hair, and tartan boxer shorts of the first actor, and the blood dripping gloves were some highlights. Sound was also impressive, with haunting music occasionally coming to the forefront of the soundscape, but never dominating or distracting. My favorite moment occurs when a brutally mundane voicemail message cuts off the monologue of the first actor, accentuating the character’s utter detachment from reality.
While not exactly entertaining in the traditional sense, The Polycephaly Monologues is a worthwhile experience. It is certainly effective in its purpose of unnerving the audience, and provides you with plenty to reflect on.