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No Monkey Business

Five stars out of five

Dawn Wolton’s production of ‘One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show’, stopped briefly at Manchester’s Contact Theatre two weeks ago and was a quick paced, farcical sitcom style insight into 1970s Suburban Philadelphia, home of Reverend Avery Harrison and his family.

It tells the story of Beverley, fresh from the South, who, after the death of her father, comes to Philadelphia to be met by her new guardian, her father’s ex business partner, Caleb Johnson, after a brief stay with Uncle Avery, Aunt Myra and Cousin Junior.  Not all goes to plan as a love blossoms between Beverley and Caleb, making a new man of him. The sub-plot involved Junior and his blossoming romance with attitude-filled Josephine ‘Lil Bits’ Neftertiti Caldwell.

It comes as no surprise that the playwright, Don Evans, was a founding member of the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 70s. The Harrisons quickly assert their authority over the rest of the town and light-heartedly mock the ‘coloured’ and white (an crowd-pleasing line came from Myra: ‘I wish I was white, then I could faint’). Use of the ‘N’ word shocked audience at first, but of course they quickly came to realise the play was indeed, a product of its time.

Each performance was perfectly in tune.  Roger Griffiths and Jocelyn Jee Esien created ‘still got it’ chemistry as Avery and Myra and Isaac Ssebandeke brought innocence and energy to the role of Junior . But the real star of the show was Ayesha Antoine, who had me convinced she was a 16 year old Deep Southerner. Her comic timing was impeccable and all her monologues were a joy to listen to.  A true natural.

The production remained true to its 70s sitcom style throughout. Before the action even began, voiceover announcements could be heard (including one asking the audience to switch off their pagers and extinguish their cigarettes) and the ‘On Air’ sign was switched off. The ‘stage manager’ then entered, a jazzy 70s theme music was blasted and the ‘familiar’ characters were introduced. The audience were transported to 70s sitcom world and loved it! The laughter and applause had  a canned sort of feel and I even noticed a few ‘ooo’s when Beverley re-appeared, bouffanted and sassily dressed. I’ve never seen the Fourth Wall broken in such a modern and fun way and it immersed the audience entirely.

The play’s attitude to sex was tongue-in-cheek, charming and fun. From Junior’s fantasy of sliding across a sea of naked women (demonstrated by a graphic slide across the stage) to Myra and Avery’s sudden new spurt of frequent middle-aged sex (when its at its best, according to Myra), the sexual energy employed by the cast was spot on (and perhaps a little infectious).

The production was hilarious, insightful and daring and the overall message of being true to your heart was encapsulated brilliantly by the cast. Except for the odd slip of American accent, ‘One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show’ couldn’t be faulted.

 

Tags: Contact Theatre.

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