Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 25 January 2018

Review: Monster at VAULT Festival

24 - 28 January 2018

You know something is going to happen… Ava Davies reviews Joe Sellman-Leava’s show about multiple masculinities and violence.

Ava Davies
Monster by Joe Sellaman- Leava at VAULT festival.

Monster by Joe Sellaman- Leava at VAULT festival. Photo: Ben Borley. 

Joe’s a good guy. Joe’s affable. He’s charming. Handsome. Joe’s a nice guy. Seriously. Joe respects women. Joe’s not “that guy”. No way. Definitely not.

When Joe walks onto the stage, barefoot, smiling nervously at the audience, part of me recoils. All I know is that this show is about masculinity. A great idea, in theory. Men – cis-het men – need to dissect their own behaviour more, what they do and why they do it. But actually seeing this man standing in front of me in the theatre, in My sacred space, in the space where I want to see work that emulates a world that I think should and could exist – it’s jarring. I feel like I’ve seen this guy Everywhere already. But then – it surprises me.

I can’t love it. It’s a show about men and women, and the violence that simmers under every pop culture reference, every banal interaction we have with our spouse. I can’t love a show that quotes, verbatim, Mike Tyson’s testimony of raping a woman. Or Patrick Stewart’s account of his father abusing his mother. Not in this climate. Not in this space. But it is necessary. If there’s a show we need in the theatre community right now, it’s one which pulls apart men’s behaviour with absolute forensic detail and refuses to look away.

You know something is going to happen. You know the monster is under the bed. The sound of the trains rumbling into Waterloo inadvertently soundtrack Joe’s descent and I shiver in my seat and I wish I could hold someone’s hand.

Joe’s an actor. Some of this story is true, he says. Some of it isn’t. He’s playing an abuser in a play. He’s mashing up lots of Shakespeare, cutting and pasting the most vitriolic pieces of dialogue (on a side note, it’s astonishing, isn’t it, how much of Shakespeare is just flat out in-your-face boring old misogyny? Amazing how, as a culture, we just choose to overlook that fact). He’s researching Mike Tyson, he’s spitting venom at us, at his co-star, he’s grabbing her and pushing himself up against her and then all of a sudden he’s quiet and lovely and endearing again. Until – he’s – not. Until it – he – it spills over into his personal life, into his relationship.

Violence is porous. It slips into the cracks when you’re not looking. Monster depicts that insidiousness deftly.

And yet –

Cis-het concepts of masculinity have gone unchallenged for God knows how many years. Monster does its best to fit them all into a one-hour, one-man show. It can’t handle it. That’s not its fault. It is really fucking trying. You can see the sweat on Joe’s face, the veins in his neck popping out – it’s almost bursting at the seams, there’s so much it wants to say. And it deserves to have the space to continue that conversation. It needs room to breathe, it needs room to fill its lungs and it needs room let out a primal, primitive scream into the abyss.

Monster is on until 28 January 2018 as part of VAULT festival. Click here for more details.  

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Ava Davies is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Review: Monster at VAULT Festival Show Info


Directed by Yaz Al-Shaater

Written by Joe Sellman-Leava

Cast includes Joe Sellman-Leava

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