(seen at the afternoon performance on 15th January 2020).
Alone in a rented “community hall” on Christmas Eve, a 50-something father hopes that his three-year estranged late teenage daughter will accept his invitation to meet.
As he waits, he muses on why she left and reveals the family story as well as his efforts to meet her.
There was a certain irony that next to the monkey were seated three young French ladies – late teens, early twenties. They left at the interval, defeated by the first half’s constant references to a Britain they could never have known nor even begun to reference. If you seek an example of what a “nation state” means, and just why Andy can’t rationalise a “global nation” – this is probably as good as it gets.
Mike Bartlett’s play is not really, as publicity bills it, about Brexit. Far more, it is about the fractured relationship existing between generations. Brexit has lighted up the chasm, but it may well be technology and politics rather than a single referendum which in fact aggravate the issue.
The monkey is pretty much the same age as Andy, thus it identified totally with how he was brought up. Back then, youngsters of all ages had both freedom and responsibility. There were set "norms" by adults, but within those, we were able to explore and do stuff that today's youngsters can't – there’s always a law to stop them, and enough pressure from insurance companies and personal-claims lawyers to make sure it is enforced.
We gave them "guidelines" and "curriculum." We also allowed political theory altering identity - as the play tackles - away from monocultural national. Social media was a handy conduit to let them pick new ones, but it took away the stable basis of society and they must cope with pressures that the older generation are not even aware of... without any of the resilience training us elders assume.
This play demonstrates brilliantly in the second half that they don't have a clue - but do have an equally clueless and often ferociously passive-aggressive supportive-unsupportive cohort as their only allies to work things out.
The Jeremy Herbet set is award-class, Bartlett’s writing almost always crisp if sometimes asking for wider argument and a slightly stronger ending. Clare Lizzimore keeps the acting tension high, each individual personality and back-story crystal clear.
The cast respond to all of this. Amber James sparkles as Natalie. Confident, resilient in a way someone defenceless must be, yet with her own wisdom to impart. Elliot Levey as Andy produces fluid monologue in the first half, and surprising slow-motion flexibility in the second.
Ellen Robertson as Maya has only a short time to establish herself and uses it to the full. Her position between the other two highlights the interesting construction of the whole piece by being pivotal in a way that is both unexpected and revealing of the author’s intentions.
There’s probably a second play to be written, and maybe a third, stemming from these three characters, their lives, the issues they face and the tools at their disposal to navigate them. This play at times only scratches the surface, but its power is in acknowledging them at all – and for that alone it is a reason to see it.