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The Dead Monkey

Ruth Gibson, James Lance and Charles Reston in The Dead Monkey at the Park Theatre, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton Ruth Gibson, James Lance and Charles Reston in The Dead Monkey at the Park Theatre, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton

There’s an intriguingly absurdist tone to Nick Darke’s Americana-steeped 1986 play, set in a shack on a sun-washed Californian beach. Hank, a travelling salesman, played here by James Lance, boasting a porn-stache to rival Damian Lewis’ in American Buffalo, has been married to Dolores for 15 years. But their marriage has been on the slide for a while and the golden surfer boy he once was, the dazzling man with the pet monkey on his shoulder, has morphed into someone paunchy and middle-aged – perhaps aptly even his monkey has expired, dying of old age.

The material is funny in a fitful way, or at least it is to begin with, but Darke’s play twists sharply in the last 20 minutes and the levity of the earlier scenes gives way to something altogether nastier and harder. Hannah Price’s production fails to make this shift in mood plausible or engaging.

As Dolores gains more agency, as a character, as a woman, getting a job of her own and making her own money, even starting to respect herself, Hank’s response is to lash out, to brood and then to attack. But while Ruth Gibson does strong work as Dolores, fragile yet composed, a woman growing into herself, the production is a lumbering thing, uncertain and unsteady. The play wears its age very heavily.

Verdict
Dated, faintly absurdist comedy which feels very much the product of its time
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