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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Arts Theatre November-December 2006

Paul Sellar's monologue play, here performed by Jonathan Moore and directed by Yvonne McDevitt, is a shaggy dog story in the mode of Conor McPherson - that is, more an evocation of character and mood than a tightly structured narrative.

In this case the story rambles through an account of how the narrator's father was cheated out of a chance to be a darts champion, how the son tried to pay his debt to a loan shark by betting on what he thought was a fixed race, and how a spell in prison prepared him for vengeance on his accumulated enemies.

If any of that sounds familiar, it is because the bulk of the text is drawn from two separate monologues, Killer and The Stake, first performed at the 2003 Edinburgh Fringe. Sellar has here combined them, modified their tone (My imperfect memory says the horse race tale was originally more comic than it is here). added the prison sequence and given the repackaging the unifying theme of the narrator's discovery of how much a life of hatred and vengeance cost him.

Compounding the complexity is the fact that the whole is in a kind of doggerel verse, sometimes rhymed couplets, sometimes limericks, generally with the kinds of off-rhymes typical of rap - indeed, some sequences sound like somewhat slowed-down rap.

Despite that distraction, the writing is frequently strong, capturing for example the rhythms and excitement of a darts match or the nervousness of a horse race. I discover in digging out my original review (see below) that I felt the writing was superior to the performance, and I have much the same judgement with a new actor and director.

Essentially just sitting in a chair and speaking, aided with only the occasional sound or lighting effect, Jonathan Moore captures the sound and look of a small-scale East End hard man of the old school. What he doesn't convey, however, is the man's internal journey.

Even though the tale is being told in retrospect, we should watch the speaker grow toward the discovery of how his anger has warped him. But Moore merely recites the verse without any forward movement or change in energy.

And so the monologue plays like a disconnected string of episodes, and the rather abrupt announcement of the theme - 'So if you must go looking for revenge/Dig two graves - one for yourself' - comes out of nowhere and ends the play with an anticlimax.

There is talent here in the writing, there's no question about that. But Paul Sellar seems repeatedly to be satisfied to let that energy be dissipated in unfocused and rhythmless direction and performances.

Gerald Berkowitz


Our 2003 Edinburgh review:

The Damage Gilded Balloon Caves
Paul Sellar has written two short monologues in the Conor McPherson mode, shaggy dog tales with a black comic tone, in this case both about sport. In Killer a son describes his father's one opportunity of making something of his life as a darts player, how he was thwarted and how the son waited decades for his chance of revenge. In The Stake a suddenly-called-in loan shark debt forces a man to stake all on a horse race that goes bad, leading to gunshots, a Wild West-style getaway and the surprise discovery of who was really behind it all. Both monologues have built-in strengths, in the hardman atmosphere, the suspenseful accounts of the darts showdowns and the horserace, and the black comic elements. Unfortunately Andrew Dickens' flat delivery has neither rhythm, humour, audience engagement nor even much variation in inflection, volume or tempo, and thus makes far too little of these opportunities. Gerald Berkowitz


Review - 2Graves - Arts 2006

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