first night

Eight

Sophie Wright enjoys an evening of monologues with HBT's production of 'Eight'.

Monologues have a certain reputation within the canon of theatre genres, possibly for good reason: they are often stylised, fourth wall-breaking pieces, and address concepts and conflicts which require the audience to have that insight into the mind of the character. Ella Hickson’s Eight resides firmly within this genre, but HBT pulls off this production with such professionalism that it has provided this particular cynic with a new appreciation for monologues.

The way Eight is structured relies entirely upon the audience of each performance. Before I went in, I was presented with a short synopsis of each monologue (six in all, there were two doubled-up pieces) and was required to number my preferred running order. Each member of the cast was sat in a chair along the back to face the audience, and whichever character performed their confessional was surrounded on all sides. In the black box space of Hild Bede’s Caedmon Hall, it made for quite an intense and intimate atmosphere, which worked extremely well.

There is no immediately apparent tie linking the monologues together, but Director Corinna Harrison and Assistant Director Rachel Davies made excellent creative choices that gave the pieces a more coherent feel. The black and white aesthetic of the costumes, the shared stage space with the ubiquitous boxes, props that appeared and disappeared, other cast members used as props themselves—all these seemingly smaller decisions almost built the individual monologues into a more complete showcase. As an audience member, it was easier to digest each piece when there were those threads to tie them together. Personally (and perhaps due to my seat being directly in front of the speakers), the sound felt slightly jarring at times, as did certain coloured lighting choices during some of the monologues. In that respect, the technical aspects didn’t always match the professional calibre of the acting.

The quality of the monologues themselves was extremely high, and all the actors should be very proud of themselves; it is hard to carry off one-handed pieces with the success they have managed. There were so many plot twists. My personal favourite was probably Hamish Lloyd Barnes’ portrayal of a teenage schoolboy infatuated with an older French woman. It went from comic to worshipful to a very human realisation, all achieved through skilful vocal pacing, and my discomfort at his storyline crept up on me in a way that left me quietly stunned. Elsewhere, the domestic and infuriatingly futile efforts that Tyler Rainford’s Astrid underwent to be visible were conveyed on a personal level, and the physicality here was particularly effective. Jasmine Price and Qasim Salam played off each other wonderfully, passing the tension between them, and the counterpoint of facts versus feeling made for a very slick performance. Carrie Gaunt was extremely well suited as an unconventional prostitute, showing an especially accomplished comic timing involving a cup of tea. Adam Evans managed to feel intangibly creepy while maintaining a solid northern accent, but a greater nuance to the tone was perhaps missing (although the character himself was admittedly pretty blunt). The dual monologue with Jasper Millard and Mally Capstick made for an excellent opener and the quality of acting was good, but I did struggle to see why those two stories were performed together. The blocking across the monologues was interesting, perhaps falling flat upon occasion. The emotional build-ups, too, were jarring at times, which may have been symptomatic of a slightly less than naturalistic style, and I found that some bouts of tears were not always preceded with an understandable build-up. Nonetheless, the overall quality of the acting itself was commendable.

Thanks entirely to the cast and crew of Eight, I now feel more endeared by monologues. It was a professional performance, full of almost relatable stories that always had that unexpected edge to them. Despite the occasional minor missteps, HBT has created an excellent production that puts some of Durham’s premier acting talent at the forefront. 

27 January 2017

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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