I love King's Bunker: the white-washed walls and odd corners can give any production a let's-do-the-show-right-here frisson. For PACE: Although, it feels almost claustrophobic, packed with emotions and tight, incisive writing. The simple set – two desk lamps and a bench – serves to highlight the actors, with no distractions.
The show consists of seven different monologues, varying in length and all fitting into about an hour and a half. With the subject matter ranging from a school inspection to a plot to sell the afterlife as insurance, the audience is held captive throughout. However, two of the pieces stand out as absolutely superb.
The first of the evening, 'Indulgence' by Henry St Leger-Davy, is a perfectly observed imitation of a snake-oil salesman's patter, and Douglas Tawn captivates the audience with his sudden changes from wheedling to anger to inspiration. My other favourite piece is the simply named 'Although', by Beth Greaves. Ellie Lavan manages to throw out the mocking, conversational lines at speed, without any loss of clarity or emotional depth. This monologue also has one of the neatest plot twists I've come across, and every line is eminently quotable.
I can't judge 'Although the flowers...' fairly, after the performer dropped out suddenly, but the read-through we were given suggested a potentially interesting piece of writing. A few of the other monologues have occasional weak points, such as the slightly overdone childish innocence of Helena Middleton in 'The Whistler', or the almost-successful attempts at original metaphor in 'Odin's Last Words to Balder'. 'There Was Always a Measure of the Impossible', by David Tremain, does a nice job of subverting the genre, opening with the character criticising her own writing. Alys Williams speaks the verse lines without making the rhyme or rhythm overly intrusive, but I occasionally found both the writing and the performance a little too self-conscious. However, the overall standard is extremely high.
The only monologue which left me slightly at a loss was 'The Mercedes', the stream of consciousness of a sports car in love with 'her' owner and the open road. I have to say that it reads like a Nice Guy of OK Cupid's fantasy: a beautiful status object is presented as female, in love with her owner. After considering other, more dangerous partners, she decides to be happiest with the boring driver who is obsessed with keeping her safe. A few of the car-related innuendos were also a little heavy-handed.
A final note on costumes: dress can be hard to get right for monologues, since ideally the focus is only on the words and the person behind them. However, the outfits for PACEwere perfectly judged, each illustrating their character without intruding, even if this reviewer was temporarily distracted by Ellie Lavan's beautiful wedding-guest dress. I want one!