Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough – until 19 October 2019
Reviewed by Sara Garner
The Monstrous Heart is a new play by Oliver Emanuel and is directed by Gareth Nicholls.
The single act play is set in a log cabin in the Canadian wilds and as the lights go up we get an idea that this may not be a comfortable ride. We meet Beth (Charlene Boyd) with a malevolent grin on her face, her mother Mag (Christine Entwisle) looking crestfallen and a dead Grisly Bear on the kitchen table.
Having just been released from prison Beth manages, with some help, to track her mother, Mag, down in Canada. Mag ‘escaped’ her previous life and started afresh with her young granddaughter, only now to be confronted by Beth. So slowly Mags past demons come back to haunt her.
The interaction between an apparently fearful Mag and an aggressively confrontational Beth gives us an insight into their past lives and relationship.
Ingeniously though, because we garner more knowledge throughout the play, the audience’s interpretation of this information changes. This leads to a bit of a perceptual roller-coaster and can be distractingly confusing.
There is very little respite from this, apart from the appearance of the silent and unnamed young granddaughter which briefly calmed the storm.
Speaking of which, the coming storm outside the cabin with its crescendoing wind, added to the volatile atmosphere.
There are questions that run through our heads throughout the play. The main one being ‘who really is the monster, Mag or Beth?’. We are also guided to consider the idea of nature versus nurture as it seems critical in explaining Beth’s behaviour throughout her life.
I personally found this play at times quite uncomfortable and horrendously disturbing viewing, but at the same time fascinating and engrossing. The fact that I found myself analysing every moment of this play and will be thinking about it for some time is a marker for how good the writing, acting and direction was.
There was the suggestion that this play was witty at times. Yes there were the occasional moments, but they felt out of place in such an intense piece of work.
There was also quite a surreal part involving the dead bear which I presumed was representative of the wider story. Whilst an interesting tool, I was not completely convinced of its effectiveness.
The acting by the two leads was brilliant throughout with both portraying their turbulent personalities exceptionally well.
To create and maintain such chilling and uncomfortable atmosphere is a credit to the director, sound engineer and set designer.
This play may not be for everyone because of its ‘adult’ subject matter and language, and shockingly chilling nature. I would still highly recommend going to see it though because it is such a well made and thought provoking play.