Third Person Theatre Company is developing its use of the improvised monologue. This is done by asking the audience for themes – such as guilt, separation or perseverance – usually taken from books they are currently reading. There might be six or seven actors on stage, who are given a theme each.
Each actor is also given a ‘psychological purpose’. This is what the character subconsciously desires. It colours the character’s view of themselves, of other people and the world, for example, ‘I want to be admired’, ‘I want to be rejected’ or ‘I want to lose myself in trivia’.
The actor must ‘programme’ this purpose and then has to use it to talk or ‘riff’ on the given theme. The emotions that the purpose creates are more important than the spoken words – because this is what the audience will primarily respond to.
Rather than performing in isolation, the company performs these monologues as a group – taking turns to utter a sentence or two or even just a word. The psychological purpose is held continuously, but the text is broken up. This can prove to be quite a challenge and the actors have to listen to each other in order to avoid overlapping.
The reason for this simultaneity is that it provides a richer and more textured experience for the audience. Some actors are able to pick up on words, ideas or emotions from other monologues and use these to season or develop their own. The audience will also interpret their own parallels.
This approach is rarely used in mainstream theatre – one contemporary exception being the Print Room production of ‘As Good a Time As Any’ at at The Coronet in Notting Hill.
This play is a poetic presentation of eight interwoven monologues. Most of the text dwells upon the every day concerns of the women – “Why was I up so early?” or “I hope Imelda will make the bed.”
But through these concerns, we are able to see, in parallel, their different desires – to be secure, to be special, to lose oneself, to have a complicated life. And while ethnicity and class might provide some real differences between the women, the most stark contrast is between generations. We realise that what concerns us most when we are younger, such as ‘who will love me?’ and ‘What shall I do with my life?’ can be ameliorated by middle age. In middle age, existential anxiety is often lost under a mountain of preoccupations with the exigencies of everyday life – “I need him to look at that light in the hall”. Sometimes, however, a philosophical calm descends and the middle aged women have moments when life is glimpsed with the lucidity of those who have seen it all before – “She doesn’t want to talk about it… and I have to respect her privacy… but I don’t want her to go through what I did.”
In later life, the preoccupations become, understandably, more immediate and more visceral – “lovely spring morning… lovely I must say… but got the proper blues… feeling so weak” and “couldn’t be certain what the arrangement was… and so was all of a fidget and uncertainty.”
Through the writing, Peter Gill not only manages to elevate the ordinary to the poetic, he achieves something quite remarkable – to present eight characters who appear to come – not from the brain of one author – but from the psychological perspective of eight separate people. The style ranges from the colloquial to the wistful; from stream of consciousness to the downright garrulous – this could easily be the collaboration of eight different playwrights.
And it is in experiencing this range of thinking – simultaneously – that we, the audience, reap the benefit of the form of the interwoven monologue.
Third Person Theatre Company are currently performing their improvised trilogy – ‘Stories within Stories’ at The Bread and Roses in Clapham.
Peter Gill’s ‘As Good a Time as Any’ can be seen at The Coronet in Notting Hill.