The Monstrous Heart review – grizzly mother-daughter reunion

Stephen Joseph theatre, Scarborough
Oliver Emanuel’s Canadian log cabin drama goes nowhere slowly

’Tis a dark and snow-stormy night somewhere in Canada. After many years of separation, a mother and child are reunited. A promise has been broken. Across the kitchen table of the mother’s simple log cabin sprawls the huge carcass of a bear, newly killed. In a cupboard, a loaded rifle waits. Mother Mag (Christine Entwisle), having left England for a new life, has transformed herself from alcoholic, assistant pharmacist to seven-years-sober expert taxidermist. Daughter Beth (Charlene Boyd), newly released from an English prison (crime not specified), has tracked her down. While in prison, Beth discovered “the best book ever written”, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Now, she has a question Mag must answer.

The set-up offers the makings of a decent, short melodrama or slice of grand guignol. What playwright Oliver Emanuel serves up, though, is an overlong, often shouty argy-bargy between two-dimensional characters at the service of their author’s musings on monstrosity.

From the opening scene, it is clear that the violent, unpredictable Beth has the upper hand over the cowed Mag (even after Mag accesses her inner bear-self). Their conflicts carry little dramatic tension and their continual, verbose explanations turn the play into an endless, emotionally unengaging exposition. When the dead bear begins to talk, hope flares for something witty and imaginative, but swiftly fizzles as its monologue deteriorates into a raging rant against its own, monster-making mother. Direction (by Gareth Nicholls) and acting are as misconceived as the text, but Annie Bostanci has great presence in the role of the silent, seldom-seen child, while design, lighting and music/sound (Cécile Trémolières, Tigger Johnson and Oğuz Kaplangi respectively) are solid.

The Monstrous Heart is at the Stephen Joseph theatre, Scarborough, until 19 October; then the Traverse, Edinburgh, 22 October to 2 November

Watch a trailer for The Monstrous Heart.

Contributor

Clare Brennan

The GuardianTramp

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