Edinburgh Fringe 2022
Tommy is a student of Monica’s and as we begin, he is trying to leave her presence. Her curt and abrupt manner does not suggest any form of insecurity or lack of confidence for her. Through a number of scenes where Tommy supports her, we learn of the insidious nature of her relationship with Philip Larkin who seems to dangle her at the end of his pen regularly enough to reduce her to infantile neediness. Tommy attempts to support and be more than a friend, though just a good friend, trying to get her out of her shell. He does so until that support mechanism brings uncomfortable truths including Tommy’s love for Nigel who is married and has a cancelled christening because of JFK’s assassination whilst Monica’s shows her need to find recovery for her alcoholism as well as her indifference to the suffering others. The final part at least tells us that Larkin did, after all, look after Monica when she became very ill.
There is much to delve into in the complex nature of the relationship between Monica Jones and Philip Larkin. Bringing a third wheel as it were into the relationship with Tommy is a very clever stroke. The fact that he is a poor working class student establishes a relationship built on a power dynamic. This allows Rita Ippolit as playwright to bring new focus into the man who is never present but never leaves – Larkin. Tommy serves as an advocate for Monica when she is unable to see reality, whilst Monica in turn becomes over reliant on a man, she will never seduce so must take account of and recognise how a platonic relationship develops. It is handled very well indeed.
There are limitations of staging which are deftly handled in the direction which make the performances achieve genuine notes of sadness and depth. Whilst having offstage nothing more than a place where you turn round and re-enter, is handled with some skill.
The costume and props are perfunctory, lighting is as it needs to be and the whole performance as a product of a creative process has little in terms of technical flaws.
Julia Munrow gives Monica that haughty arrogance, as well as the vulnerability of someone who cannot always carry it off. She allows Teddy Walker to have the right sounding board to allow their relationship to have authenticity. They are both lonely and suffering from the same delusion though ultimately Monica shall see some fruits of her ardour, Walker’s Tommy is doomed to failure, thus cementing the see saw nature of their relationship.
This is a rich seem of material, well developed and presented to us as lovely play ought to be. In amongst many performances partly designed to challenge and make us think, it demonstrates that the dramatic within us has as much value as the over dramatic around us. It’s a great play.