Gillian Goupillot (stage Manager and sound), James Renwick (lighting)
Having an imaginary friend is one thing. Having a grotesque and disturbing monkey that nobody else can see follow you around is quite another.
Writer Sophie Good of emerging Edinburgh theatre company Blazing Hyena has taken this premise and transposed it to modern day Edinburgh in her adaptation of the Victorian ghost storyGreen Tea by Irish writer J. Sheridan Le Fanu who specialised in tales of psychological horror.
James, (Calum Ferguson) and Andy (Joe Walsh) meet at a party, become lovers and move in together enjoying banana pancakes together during their honeymoon period. James is a genomics researcher involved in controversial research. Andy is an ordinary bloke happy to accommodate his partner’s long and odd working hours and have his (green) tea ready for when he appears and life is rosy for the two opposites. But James begins to change.
Travelling home on the night bus after a long session in the lab, James sees a pair of red eyes getting closer and closer to him. The eyes belong to a slavering, wheezing monkey (Sands Stirling) that continues to stalk him to the detriment of his career. James’ behaviour becomes increasingly strange to the utter bewilderment of Andy who has no knowledge of the third party in their relationship. Is this monkey another manifestation of what is more commonly known as the ‘black dog’ of depression? Is it a result of stress or overwork? Is it over indulgence in green tea? Or is the creature horribly and physically manifest?
A slightly discordant version of the old nursery rhyme Pop goes the Weasel , whose second verse has the significant lines, ‘Every night when I get home The monkey’s on the table…’ acts as musical bookends to this modern gothic tale. Gagged and blindfolded, like a version of Magritte’s The Lovers and hinting at the Three Wise Monkeys, three of the actors move and strike poses across the small stage area of Gayfield Creative Spaces before the narrative begins.
This young company’s aim is to “[produce] theatre that… gives a modern representation of life in and around Edinburgh, and attempts to bring a more cinematic experience to the stage.” And here lies the problem. They have produced an ambitious re-working of a classic horror tale set in modern times but the play needs more sophisticated equipment to realise the effects that this play seems to be demanding. Electronic visuals could have created two haunting red eyes rather than the lumbering Monkey itself who gets too close, not just to the front row, but to those at the back, even lying right at the feet of one poor chap for what must have seemed a long time. That and his spluttering, gut-busting cough may have been a shade too close and intimate in such a small space. Some of it is done by torchlight, the effects of which might work in a film or bigger theatre space here it just feels like an electricity cut.
The four-strong cast performs well with Ferguson and Walsh providing narration at intervals and the play gives food for thought to modern sensibilities about the dangers of not sharing troubles and its effect on mental health, though such rationality is thrown on to the back foot. Blazing Hyena deserves the facility to realise their theatrical ambitions.
22nd-26th November 2016, 7.30-8.30pm with Post-show discussion: Thursday 24th November, 8.30-9pm age recommend 14 +