There are many gems to be discovered on the London fringe. Freedom Tongue presents this one-woman show in an intimate pub theatre space, and it is both mesmerising and relentless. Gloria Williams’ Monday is a harrowing tale about abuse, false messiahs and the will to survive. At the Etcetera Theatre.
There are many gems to be discovered on the London fringe. Freedom Tongue presents this one-woman show in an intimate pub theatre space, and it is both mesmerising and relentless. Gloria Williams’ Monday is a harrowing tale about abuse, false messiahs and the will to survive.
Shows with only one actor are a special kind of theatre. There has to be a magnetic performer who is a great storyteller, and gripping material to keep you interested: if one of the two elements fails, the whole show usually falls flat. Gloria Williams, who wrote and performs this piece, emerged from the Royal Courts Theatre Young Writers Group and has earned great praise in Edinburgh and America for her work.
Through the perspective of a troubled teenager were live through a Monday that will tear apart an already broken family. The question of faith is at the centre of this production. There is an African woman downstairs, and 18-year-old Neena can hear her sing her religious songs over and over again. They are songs to a god that is forgiving and serves as support during times of hardship, but it’s not the same god that is being prayed to in Neena’s house. In the typical, black North London home where she lives with a religious stepfather, an unforgiving mother who tries to blank out the obvious tragedy and an innocent half-sister, Neena whiles away her days in psychological agony.
What on the surface reads like an overdone plot about child abuse is brought to life by rippling, evocative language that sometimes rhymes but isn’t poetry, a language that twists and turns and makes the viewer shudder with its intense imagery. Trying to protect her half-sister and struggling to confront her mother, Neena is a girl who has built an overcompensating wall of anger around herself. What has happened to her has rendered her incapable of focusing on her future or exploring her own sexuality in a meaningful way.
Williams allows different characters to speak up and she makes the transition between them without overly stylised efforts, finding the right devices to illustrate the complete communication breakdown in the girl’s home. Some of the confrontations – especially between mother and daughter – last a bit too long, but they capture with a disturbing urgency the futility of trying to make her mother understand.
The ever-increasing sense of dread and threat in the piece is driven by Williams’ powerful voice and physicality. At times there is an overwhelming sense of authenticity that makes it hard to watch. But there is not much else to focus your attention on, just a chair and a crumpled up white sheet, and so as an audience you are forced to listen and forced to look at what’s playing out in front of you. Culminating not so much in a resolution but a terrifying dissolution, the question remains of how to gather up strength after traumatising events like this. Is it worth giving yourself up to protect a family that cannot prevent abuse? If God can be misused in such a way, can he ever become a source of solace and comfort again? Gloria Williams manages to ask fundamental questions like these because she knows how to create a dense linguistic landscape, and because she delivers a gut-wrenching performance without being sentimental or maudlin. She is definitely a talent to look out for in the future.