King's Head Theatre, London N1
Opened 4 June, 2001

Stewart Permutt's Singular People at the King's Head Theatre in Islington is a quartet of monologues by middle-aged or elderly characters, solidly performed, whimsical in nature and faintly sentimental but slighter than they pretend to be. There, that's said everything about the show in less than 10% of the average length of one of these reviews.

Ivan (Mark Eden) is a gentleman of a certain age who claims Jesus appeared to him on Fenchurch street station. Susan (Pauline Munro) is a county lady whose son is a gay serial killer. Henry (Kevin Moore) goes on walking tours abroad extravagantly painted with the products of his cosmetics company. Minnie (Doreen Mantle) is the mother of a media psychotherapist, deluding herself that he has only checked her into a residential home for a few weeks. Two male, two female; as far as we can tell, two Jewish (Ivan and Minnie), two Gentile. Each monologue lasts between fifteen and twenty minutes. Each is internally continuous, except Minnie's, which is divided into two scenes.

Notwithstanding the Alan Bennett-led renaissance of the dramatic monologue, these "bittersweet comedies" of Permutt's are essentially radio plays. The only real visual contribution is the delicious disjunction between Moore's brisk patrician manner as Henry and the rouge, lipstick and nail varnish which make him look the most frightful old queen. Eden, in particular, fails to connect directly with the audience, looking above our heads or off to one side or through us but never quite at us; in a venue as intimate as the King's Head, this makes an appreciable difference.

Andrew Wood's direction concerns itself with characterisation and mood rather than blocking, as there is scarcely anything to be done physically with the actors between getting them on and getting them off; Susan pouring herself another whisky and Henry touching up his slap are about as wildly physical as things get around here.

It has been ages since I encountered a production with so little to be said either for or against it; it is simply there. I fear I must once again simply dust off Miss Jean Brodie's maxim: "For those who like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing they like."

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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