Review: Reset the Stage (Mono Box)

The Mono Box is a non-profit arts organisation which launched in 2013, co-founded by choreographer/movement director Polly Bennett and actor/producer Joan Iyiola. An associate company of Hampstead Theatre, it offers alternative training for artists looking to “take creative ownership”.

Utilising emerging, ethnically-diverse writers who came through their PLAYSTART mentoring programme, the Mono Box have now developed their Reset the Stage showcase. Each new monologue would “speak boldly about where they [the writers] are and where they would like to be”.

These short pieces would be performed by established actors at London theatres which were shuttered during lockdown: Lyric Hammersmith, the Bush, Arcola, Southwark Playhouse, Young Vic, Soho, and Almeida. All would be directed by Roberta Zuric, edited by Xanna Ward-Dixon, and photographed by Femi Awojide.

Sharon Duncan-Brewster in The Madness, at the Almeida

The plays in Reset the Stage are: Sharia’s Law – written by maatin and performed by Shane Zaza; Daniel – written by Charles Entsie and performed by Ken Nwosu; Screams – written by Kiran Banawra, performed by Thalissa Teixeira; Rush – written by Sid Sagar, perforned by Danny Kirrane; Joy – written by Roberta Livingston, performed by Joan Iyiola; Cynthia – written by Vivian Xie, perfofmed by Isabella Laughland; and The Madness – written by Dipo Baruwa-Etti, performed by Sharon Duncan-Brewster.

It is fascinating to read how many of these young writers are already involved in writing for digital media online, on TV or film. Theatre’s boundaries can and do blur, as these pieces have proved. The themes are universal, but edgy and provocative. Across the seven pieces showcased here, issues of racism, obsession, harassment, friendship, loss, addiction and more are explored. They are playful, brutal, reflective, confessional, confrontational, and honest.

These new writers have not held back in creating characters which are far from perfect, with perspectives which are often unexpected, always interesting. These people are not simply ‘victim’ or ‘survivor’ but are much more nuanced. Often, as in Rush, Joy, and Cynthia, it is what is not revealed or said which is most powerful.

Joan Iyiola in Joy, at Young Vic

In Screams, the structure of the scenes and the back and forth of timelines works well; while in Daniel and The Madness other characters are introduced in a way which feels both new and natural. Sharia’s Law is the most referencial to theatre itself and what we see on the stage, and is in the most traditional venue (albeit a Victorian theatre reconstructed in a modern surrounding).

The use of the theatre spaces by Zuric and her team is inventive and gives a really professional, polished feel to these plays. As a viewer, it is exciting to me to see what companies and creatives have achieved as digital theatre develops, creating something of a new, hybrid media which surely has long-term potential.

An excellent evening of new writing, with wonderful performances throughout.

Reset the Stage streamed on 17 June 2021. There is an additional stream on 1 July, on-demand until 3 July: book here.

You can find out more about the Mono Box, and support their work by donating, here.

Image credit: Helen Murray

LouReviews received complimentary access to review Reset the Stage.

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