She Kills Monsters
Frank Kaye | 28 Jan 2024 23:05pm
Photo: Jonathan Schick
She Kills Monsters is a unique piece of theatre that is largely unknown to a UK audience. It has been taken on by The Company of Ten, the in-house company at the Abbey Theatre and is being presented in their Studio Theatre by a remarkable team of young actors and in the words of the director, Roger Bartlett, “a huge team of helpers”.
The play is sort of two plays at once – one the story of Agnes, played brilliantly by Tanishia Gearing, overcoming the grief of losing her sister, Tilly, in a car accident and two – Tilly, again played brilliantly by Manika Sweeney, in absentia, creating a game of Dungeons and Dragons.
The shaper and key protagonist of the play is Chuck, played by Benedict Gaskin, who is based on a childhood friend of the play’s author, Qui Nguyen. He operates as a sort of narrator by quoting from a book that sets out the terms of the game. Benedict flips brilliantly between a real time person and a slightly echoey storyteller.
This is perhaps a moment to describe the setting for the show. It has seating on two sides of a square, entrances on all four corners, video screens above the two vacant sides, a desk for Chuck on one side and a table and chairs for Agnes’ desk on the other. In the centre of the acting space is a small lit circle in which Tilly often stands to make it clear she is only in Agnes’ imagination. In the corner opposite the audience is a curtained entrance through which a number of strange things emerge.
Once the storytelling is underway there are all kinds of interventions. There is another kind of narrator, played by Eva Shipley, who stands in the lit circle to lay out the terms of what is happening. There are two companions for Tilly, Lily, played by Fionnuala Coffey and Kelly, played by Renaye Appiah. These two help with narration of the story, although they also take two other parts, Lilith, and Kaliope, who are part of the story. There are a couple of wild guys played by Joshua Levy and Harry Johnson, who almost steal the show with their lunatic behaviour. Then there is Orcus, played by Cameron Elias who is totally laid back in response to the threat of being attacked – “It’s not going to happen, I’m busy!” Eva Shipley also plays a couple of other characters along with Deniz Simsek Duhig especially notable as the Evil pair of Tina and Gabbi. One other lunatic is Steve, played by Alexander Millins Vincent, who always arrives with a two second fanfare and is then somewhat shocked by not knowing what is going on. Finally there is the boyfriend of Agnes, Miles, played by Ben Cammack. He maintains an image of normality amongst the mayhem that otherwise ensues.
The play is kind of in two halves with the first act consisting of lots of mad events as part of Dungeons and Dragons and the second act more reflective of what Tilly’s life had been like before her fatal accident. The two main characters are Agnes and Tilly, and these two actresses carry the storyline brilliantly. Tanishia Gearing, in particular maintains a solid presence throughout the madness. She and Manika Sweeney, as Tilly provide a thread throughout the performance that keeps the audience grounded despite the ridiculous events.
Returning to the strange things emerging, there is a green cube which devours one of the characters and another large spherical blob that Agnes kills. Another feature is the strange characters which have been hanging on the set throughout and now become beings that Agnes has to overcome. The play emerges as a tribute to Tilly’s life but as a way for Agnes to move on to have a life with Miles as her husband.
This was the first night of the play and I think it will become more secure as the show progresses, and I think my rating would go up a notch. The audience loved the show and although they were probably biased they were entirely correct in demonstrating what an incredible achievement this performance is. The programme has a long list of “creatives” and there is no question that the whole team has generated something quite unique. This show has hardly been performed in this country and one hopes that it will grow in strength form this fabulous beginning.