The stage at the Burton Taylor Studio provides a strange sort of welcome for this piece of art: we are confronted with a single chair, and translucent sheets hanging from the rafters. While being strangely powerful, the minimal set confers the challenge of turning script into spectacle completely onto the actors, and they do a marvellous job. Audiences on Tuesday and Wednesday have been treated to a set of four monologues, the Eight being made up by a further four monologues on the following two days. Saturday seems to be the climax, as the best four will be performed in a BT slot which surprisingly is yet to sell out.
The characters of Eight, as incredible as some of them are, are extraordinarily convincing. Even Miles (David Shields), perhaps the most absurd character, manages to convince us in large part thanks to his actor’s portrayal. At first we see the big-headed banker full of bravado, but something is being hidden. As he talks about his experience on the number 30 London bus on 7th July 2005, and his life subsequently, the mask is gradually removed; his loss of social identity becomes apparent and we are left wondering whether he will regain it.
The performances keep getting better. Miles is followed by the entertaining and humorous Millie (Alice Porter), a high-class prostitute who harks back to a bygone Great British era with a philosophy that frequently borders on misogyny. Whilst the previous monologue contained humour amongst darkness, with Millie it feels like a stand-up, albeit with a twist near the end when we realise that perhaps the character is not as happy with their existence as previously thought. It is a shame that in Millie’s monologue the climax is too short, leaving us begging for more which does not come.
But the swift end to one monologue pre-empts the rollercoaster of the next, as we head straight into the dark, troubled world of Mona (Millie Chapman). She is a character trapped, depressed, and mysterious. Chapman’s portrayal conveys the mental anguish perfectly, with impressive and convincing changes in speed, and a physical performance which held the audience silent, still, and sinisterly addicted. Mona makes for uncomfortable viewing.
The subject matter gets no more light-hearted with the final monologue. André (Christopher Adams) arrives at his art studio in the morning to find his boyfriend hanging from above. Again, the subject matter is serious, but Adams’ performance allows us to laugh at the strange, twisted humour of his character. The audience are not sure what to think, and not sure whether to laugh, but from this they hang on to every word.
André’s monologue is different from the others in that it includes a wider social commentary, but like Miles, Millie, and Mona, we are kept interested by characters that are never as they first seem. Characters whose initial confidence slowly ebbs away, and who come to conclusions neither we nor the audience were expecting. Thursday and Friday, with its different set of monologues, ought to be successful in a similar vein. And Saturday might just be a five-star performance. I am tempted to return.