Fourth Monkey Theatre is a rep company that provides a year of training for young actors, with intensive rehearsals, exposure, several shows throughout the year and a company of over 50 heading to Edinburgh for the whole of August. As I have two friends in this company, I felt it necessary to see what this innovative new company has to offer, and am pleased to say they definitely offer a hell of a lot.
The first night I went to was to see Sarah Kane’s distressingly honest 4:48 Psychosis, directed by Steven Green. A series of ramblings, diary entries, and general thoughts regarding suicide, depression, and hospitalization, this play is not one for those of a nervous disposition or sensitive nature – it is raw, uncompromised anguish. And the 21-strong female cast from Fourth Monkey are phenomenal in portraying the psychotic, mixed up world of a severe depressive. All the costumes reflect the colour and design of a hospital gown, tied up at the back, but each has its own specific meaning – amongst the chorus of personalities is a lawyer, a 50s housewife, and a clown. These characters help to separate the sporadic thoughts Kane put down onto paper, and reflect the horror that must occur inside the minds of the mentally ill. Charlie Bate played the ‘real’ key character, most likely Kane herself, and gave what is for me undoubtedly one of the deepest, most emotional performances I have ever seen. Amidst the chaos and comedy that the chorus provided, Bate was steadfast and vulnerable, angry and compliant, and utterly astonishing to watch.
The venue of Theatro Technis is unique and innovative, despite being so small. The square stage consists of a 5×5 grid, each square a white piece of perspex lit from below to create patterns and coloured lines as the actors move. This, combined with erratic sound effects and grim blue top-lighting, created a real sense of surrealism and lighting designer Pablo Baz must be credited for such a demanding and incredible design.
Following on from the success of 4:48, I then saw Lord of the Flies. The novel by William Golding had been directed by Hamish MacDougall and occupies the same stage design – the grid this time is used to show the place of the fire, and to distinguish the various locations on the island. For those who didn’t study this book at school, Lord of the Flies tells the story of a group of schoolboys who survive a plane crash after being evacuated during what is thought to be World War Three. What unravels is the way in which the boys respond to being left on a deserted island, how they create their own rules, and the problems that ensue – almost a darker version of R.M.Ballantyne’s Coral Island, Golding explores what comes instinctively to man when placed outside of society.
In this performance, many of the characters were taken by actresses, but this did not detract in any way from the main storyline. In fact, Georgia Kerr played the part of the arrogant and slightly disturbed Jack with confidence and a sinister slant that came across even more so being female – the sense of foreboding and abnormality were heightened by the image of a skirt-clad schoolgirl covered in the ‘blood’ of a recently slaughtered pig. Max Sisterson took the lead role of Ralph with incredible command of space, as well as sensitivity to the bizarre situation the boy finds himself – switching from excited child left without adults, and lost little boy struggling to come to terms with unexpected events on the island, Sisterson carried the tale with great skill. Another person worthy of mention is Leanne Bennet – the book suggests that the awkward role of Piggy be taken by a rather stout boy; however Bennet (who definitely falls into neither of these categories) was both hilariously funny and remarkably sincere, in a way that enabled the audience to truly empathise with her. As a book, Lord of the Flies has a lot to talk about and holds so much description one would think it almost impossible to portray on stage without extensive set design and special effects – and yet Fourth Monkey manage to create Golding’s island with more clever lighting and the talent of its actors.
This is definitely a theatre company to watch out for. With another show, The Bacchae, running alongside these two, and six productions set to be presented for the entirety of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, they are fast becoming a key resource for young people wanting training, exposure, and experience, whilst creating incredible pieces of truly professional theatre.
Fourth Monkey Theatre Company provide a number of opportunities for young people – a year of training known as the Year of the Monkey, a 2 year rep scheme, as well as workshops and 10minute lab pieces. Find out more on their website.