Monogamy (Richmond Theatre)

Monogamy (Richmond Theatre, until Saturday June 2nd 2018)

Every playwright can have an off day but it is disappointing and shocking to see such a fall from grace for the exciting and extraordinary talent of Torben Betts with his new play Monogamy.

Described as “celebrity satire” this consistently unfunny black comedy focuses on the home life of a TV chef once the cameras have been turned off, but the only culinary word that springs to mind about it is turkey.

Unbelievably, this play has been in production for nearly three years and was finished in April. Alas, like the Emperor’s new clothes, it needs people to look at it and point out that it is just ridiculous and has no substance.

One might have hoped that being expected to laugh at racism, homophobia, foreign accents/names, drug-taking and psychiatric illness had died out with the passing of 1970s sitcoms, but Monogamy proves otherwise in two hours of shameful drama that hardly once rises above embarrassing and often borders on the unacceptably offensive.

Every role is sketchily drawn with their backgrounds almost pencilled in as footnotes and, indeed, of the six characters on stage not one is remotely likeable, making it impossible to care about any of them.

The wonderful and award-winning Janie Dee struggles desperately to cook up something appetising as Caroline, the nation’s second favourite TV chef (whether the first is Nigella Lawson or Mary Berry is unclear, though either of them standing on stage simply reading out recipes would be more palatable). She is an alcoholic and put-upon wife and mother who is having a fling with the handyman and has a newspaper snapping at her heels after enjoying a wild night out. She is supposedly a devoted Christian, but apart from a crucifix on the wall there is little else to suggest this save for a few out of context and nonsensical remarks and the only hope in the production comes in an apocalyptic climax minutes from the end, which sees her fall to her knees in prayer, but this is too little too late and is in any case wasted.

Patrick Ryecart is called upon once again to play blustering and boorish, this time as bigoted husband and father Mike, who makes Alf Garnett look like the Archbishop of Canterbury. His back-story of having a bullying father traumatised by his World War Two experiences could have made him sympathetic, but this is all but ignored and far from being amusing his attitude is vile and disgraceful in a present-day piece.

As Amanda Genevieve Gaunt, whose bizarre behaviour under the influence of drugs even causes Mike to question what on earth she is talking about twice, is ludicrous (what person has EVER spoken in the way she does?), while Jack Archer as Caroline and Mike’s son Leo is forced to make his attempts to come out as gay to his father like a scene from a Carry On film. Can this really be 2018, when Angels in America has taken Broadway by storm and The Inheritance has impressively broken audience hearts at the Young Vic? It is reprehensible. Even his veganism and his commendable desire to volunteer helping Syrian refugees are mocked, though once again not enough is made of the character for us to even care.

Jack Sandle is the carpenter who has an eye on more than Caroline’s comestibles, with Charlie Brooks playing his wife – guess what, she’s on meds for mental illness and depression (hahahaha) and has an autistic son (hahahahaha). What on earth was the writer thinking?

Monogamy is pitifully poor fare from a fine cast and usually dependable writer. Director Alastair Whatley rarely tries to whisk up the ingredients into anything flavoursome, though James Perkins’ kitchen set design is at least worthy. Presented by the Original Theatre Company, Ghost Light Theatre and Eilene Davidson this is definitely a show with a soggy bottom.

The short national tour ends up at the normally discerning Park Theatre in London for five weeks and it is hard to see how it can last even that long. Like a ruined Bake Off showstopper Monogamy deserves to be dumped in the bin.

David Guest

Image: Simon Annand