The Synergy Theatre Project is an ambitious and worthwhile project; a season of new plays from prisoners and ex-prisoners about life returning from jail. They’ve teamed up with the highly regarded Theatre 503 to create The Monkey.
This play tells the story of Tel, an ex-con who visits his old estate to chase up some old debts (hence the title, a monkey is £500). The dim-witted and aptly named Thick Al is the poor victim, who is unwilling to pay despite the pleading of mutual friends Bex and Dal.
John Stanley’s script is a firecracker; brimming with charm, humour and menace. The script is truly South London and makes the dialect sound both naturalistic and amazingly lyrical. There are some entertaining running jokes (one bizarrely involving Tim Roth) and also some surprisingly tender moments. It is however unmistakably violent and those squeamish about blood or needles should probably give it a miss.
Tel, the main character, is both terrifying and hilarious, perfectly played by Morgan Watkins. He is charismatic and twitchy, switching relentlessly between articulate theories and free-flowing abuse. There is a hint of the Krays about him; he is smartly dressed and violent, yet made strangely likeable by a compelling performance.
Daniel Kendrick and Danielle Flett put in strong performances as Tel’s kind-hearted and conflicted friends. George Whitehead also makes a powerful debut as the slobbish and stupid Al, who cares more about having the last Jaffa Cake than the prospect of vengeance from a psychopath. These excellent performances are supported by a versatile set and some atmospheric music.
Theatre 503 is a hotbed of new writing talent and The Monkey certainly meets the very high standard. The highest compliment I can give is that the 1 hour 40 minutes absolutely flew by.
The Monkey is an exceptional debut from a very talented writer; it is only a shame that it is not running for longer.