More associated with the tight budgets and tighter timeslots of the Edinburgh Fringe than the London stage, the monologue is not exactly the sexiest of theatrical forms.
Nonetheless, it’s one that’s having a moment in the social-distancing era. Monologues are cheap to put on – important when you can only sell a third of your seats – and a single performer doesn’t need to distance from their castmates. And if you cast a celebrity, then boom! Suddenly you can charge a decent price for an inexpensive show. You might even break even!
The National Theatre will reopen with one next month (‘Death of England: Delroy’). The West End is due to restart with another (Adam Kay’s NHS monologue ‘This Is Going to Hurt’). And Nicholas Hytner’s Bridge Theatre is staging a full on 12-monologue season. It kicked off earlier this month with David Hare’s new Ralph Fiennes-starring ‘Beat the Devil’. But actually, despite its extreme topicality – it’s about Hare’s experience getting Covid – it’s probably the weakest link.
Elsewhere, you can see a few recent classics of the form, including Inua Ellams’s autobiographical ‘An Evening with an Immigrant’, the first chance to experience his acclaimed show since he hit the big time with his play ‘Barber Shop Chronicles’. Best of all, there’s a mini-season within the season, in which eight of the best actors in the whole damn country (including Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville, and Lucian Msamati) reprise their roles from this summer’s TV versions of Alan Bennett’s ‘Talking Heads’ monologues. They’re really great, reinventing and reimagining some of the lesser-known ‘Heads’ (two of the plays are brand new), and allowing some truly phenomenal actors to let rip on a stage again – albeit in a wry, Alan Bennett-style way.
If we’re still knee-deep in monologues in a year we might be bored with the things. For now, though, let’s salute this humble saviour of the socially distanced stage.
The autumn season at The Bridge runs until Oct 31. Find out more here.
In other theatre news, the Royal Court is due to open this November.
Can’t wait that long? Get stuck into some immersive theatre shows happening in London right now.