Monster, Vault Festival – Review


Whether one takes the evolutionary stance on human behaviour or the metaphysical perspective, ‘Man’ is a creature of duality. Every day he must decide whether to be ‘civilised’ and rise above the violence that is hardwire into his DNA or not, with varying degrees of success. Joe Sellman-Leava’s Monster explores this conundrum, but rather than look at it with a singular point of view, he manages to thread excerpts from YouTube videos, his relationship with his father and girlfriend, plus his experiences as an actor. Some of the ‘personal’ material is meant to be fictitious, but in some ways it ‘doesn’t matter’ as the ideas they touch on are anything but ‘fake’…

Like all actors, Sellman-Leava’s onstage persona wants to give an emotionally truthful performance. His latest role, however, troubles him as in playing one of Shakespeare’s ‘tragic heroes’, he finds that can’t relate to the text and it’s noticeably ‘fake’. This puts his professional relationship with a director to the test, as it’s perceptible to everyone that he’s uncomfortable with where his character is going emotionally. The question is will he do whatever it takes to reach the requisite versimilitude?

A man known for ferocity in and out of the ring, Mike Tyson’s identification as perpetrator of violence provides insight at one end of the spectrum, while Patrick Stewart (whose father was physically abusive to his mother) provides perspective on the ‘choice’ of violence. It is, however, Sellman-Leava’s own father who challenges what he’s assimilated online, putting the actions of Tyson and acting as a profession under the spotlight.

Beyond the textual and the theoretical, it is Sellman-Leava’s burgeoning relationship with his girlfriend that grounds the play as he tries to makes sense of the different facets of human nature and their ‘compatibility’ with ‘relationships’. In his stage persona’s receptive mind, the different perspectives bleed into each other, all vying to be heard but creating an aural mosaic of opinions.

In contrast, the anecdotes that he draws from are told in a measured, engaging manner, making it easier to comprehend why he hasn’t had as much traffic with the ‘uglier side of life’. But as he learns the hard way, there’s a ‘violence’ to be found in words too, which once spoken can’t be taken back. This is something both sexes know all too well.

© Michael Davis 2018


Monster runs at the Vault Festival until 28th January.

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