As if torn from the page of an Ideal Home magazine, a classic marriage of wood panelling, heritage colours and elegant marble, furnish the clean-cut, traditional kitchen of a bourgeois familial dream. If the home reflects the family, this one is tasteful, reserved and measured. But beneath the immaculate furnishings and smiling family photos, lurks a darker truth about the societal pressures and expectations levied upon the conventional family archetype.
Just like the slow boiling pot on the stove, tension bubbles throughout this searing piece of satire that charts the disintegration of famous TV chef and mother, Caroline Mortimer (Janie Dee). Alastair Whatley’s direction is as sleek and refined as the set itself, directing long, drawn out scenes that produce an uncertain menace. A fraught family dinner is a relatable scene for all and when combined with James Perkin’s hazardous set design, featuring a vast array of sharp knives, glass and exploding champagne corks, Monogamy successfully makes home – which should be the safest of places – feel cold and threatening.
With themes of religion, sexuality, depression and addiction, writer Torben Betts builds his story’s intensity with expert control, only allowing Max Pappenheim’s sound and Chris Wither’s lights to emerge during the second act; the ominous thunder and lightning acting as a warning from God and symbolic of the approaching events. All the cast are on fine form; Janie Dee’s stage presence in particular is hard to ignore, as are Patrick Ryecart’s stunning characterisations.
Betts is successful in proving that a well organised life is not necessarily a life that’s under control, even though at times the portrayal of mental illness is at risk of being stigmatised. A mix of kitchen sink realism with a pinch of black humour and a bit of Tarantino thrown in for good measure, Monogamy is sure to leave audiences on a knife-edge throughout.