Organised by Grace Lewis and Olivia D’Lima, Plug In is a monthly mid-week event that takes place at the Canal Café Theatre. With an audience comprised of actors, producers, directors and other industry guests, Plug In caters for female actors who would like to try out new material, and meet and be noticed by professionals ‘in the business’. Asides from an hour spent on several monologues, there’s a Q&A session afterwards with a seasoned guest from ‘the industry’ – on this occasion, Nancy Sullivan.
L-R: Grace Lewis, Olivia D’Lima and Julia Strassmann / © Hollie Buxton
Acting as host for the event, Julia Strassmann’s enthusiastic, self-deprecating onstage persona complements the 10 actors who perform for most of the evening. With each person given approximately five minutes to perform their pieces (with judicious banter in-between) the hour quickly passes.
First to brave the stage is actor/singer Georgie Montgomery. Her monologue deals with the familiar subject of one’s ex, but dovetails it with a sandwich-making venture (a bit like Gwyneth Paltrow’s occupation in Sliding Doors, but not as successful…) Throw in her character’s new-found Buddhist outlook and the longevity of cockroaches, it makes for a heady mix.
Rather than talk about ‘herself’, Nicole Burns’ inebriated character chats about her mother and the women that men in general go for – more often than not, younger women. While this leaves ‘older’ women to lead independent, fulfilling lives, some men find this off-putting, which perpetuates the cycle of rejection. This leads us back to her mother… Rather than being didactic, the tone of Burns’ character brings out the humour and absurdity of this paradigm.
Taking inspiration from Aileen Wuornos, a famous former sex worker who was jailed and executed for murder, Emily Ruth Eaton’s monologue has ‘attitude’ in abundance. Aware she’s being judged on a number of levels, the handcuffed character gives off mixed signals. The ebb-and-flow of her ‘aggression’ and defensiveness, which shows in her speech and body language, is a reflection of her own tumultuous emotions….
Emily Ruth Eaton
Monologues about break-ups and former relationships feature prominently in the evening. In the case of Farida Lowe’s monologue, we see it happen in real time in one of the ‘worst’ ways possible – over the phone. However, Lowe’s performance is anything but overwrought – instead choosing the ‘harder than it looks’ path of ‘less is more’, and show through the character’s calmness and politeness that she’s NOT happy to be ‘just good friends’…
If Lowe’s character tries to not let her own emotions overwhelm her, the character in Nalân Burgess’ monologue has no compunction about conveying her deep-felt feelings about her ex. As someone for whom time hasn’t eased the pain, it infuriates her that ex hasn’t learned anything from their relationship and continues to treat others badly…
How well do you know your other half? In Bebe Barry’s monologue, she hypothesizes that it’s only when you sleep with someone that you find their innermost qualities. Of course, she’s the first to admit that ‘reality’ offers counter-intuitive discoveries, when she also sleeps with her boyfriend’s brother (!) One is generally grumpy, but relaxed and congenial in bed. The other has a lovely personality, but decidedly grumpy in bed. But why..?! An amusing monologue that holds a kernel of truth about the oxymorons of life.
Going on a date can be a nerve-wracking experience, especially if it’s the first time meeting someone. In Chloe Ledger’s monologue, her character’s anxiety takes on a personality of its own and imagines the worst that can happen. Beginning with the very real worries that women have to consider, the ‘scenarios’ that come to mind become increasingly surreal, with ‘cause’ and ‘effect’ bearing no relation to each other. Of course all her fears melt away once she spots her date, but then… A very funny monologue, a firm favourite with the audience.
Relationships of a different sort feature in Lydia Lane’s monologue, as her character muses on the unspoken bond between two people in a relationship and how this manifests when they’re in public together. Of course, from a woman’s perspective how this would ideally be like versus reality are two different things… A nuanced and insightful monologue, delicately told.
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Returning to monologues of the mirthful variety, Carla Agius performs an extract from her queer-themed play The Female Apologetic. From the off, her character comes out with striking statements – or at least not the sort you find in mainstream plays. Her statement? She is attracted to ‘genderqueer’ men and women – men that looked feminine and women that look ‘butch’. Her present boyfriend (who is ‘straight) works in gay porn because he can earn more money in that ‘field’. However, even if the boyfriend isn’t emotionally engaged in this activity, there are other, long-term ramfications… A full length version of this dark comedy will appear in 2019.
Closing the monologue hour, Alexandra Whitworth’s character hails from the north of England. Reminiscing about her childhood years, she recalls the ‘little things’ from her past such as telephone boxes and the sounds of the shipyards in their heyday. Of course of all the people she knows, her boyfriend is the only person who actually wants to stay on in Sunderland… As a monologue, an interesting blend of ‘personal history’ with that of the industrial north and the rest of the UK.
The choice of actor Nancy Sullivan for the Q&A session was an inspired one. As well as having worked in many aspects of theatre, she co-runs the W1 Workshops. This part-time course, which takes place over a year, helps potential candidates prepare their auditons for drama schools and for aspects of ‘the business’ that are seldom talked about.
The Q&A was very informative, covering not only Sullivan’s own background, but how people on panels actually behave. Among the many things talked about, inbuilt assumptions are sometimes made because of the natural accent and class of the interviewees (despite official protestations to the contrary). In the world of show business, there are many ‘Professor Higgins’ who judge a candidate’s ‘suitability’ not on their technical skill or the choices they made, but whether they naturally speak with a RP timbre. Food for thought…
© Michael Davis 2018
Plug In ran at Canal Cafe Theatre on 13th June.
Details of W1 Workshops can be found at: https://www.w1workshops.com/