The Monster in the Hall

This musical outing from David Greig is a thrillingly beautiful, joyfully wrong-footing gem

★★★★
theatre review (edinburgh) | Read in About 2 minutes
Published 07 Aug 2011
33328 large
102793 original

As a widowed former Hells Angel struggles to raise his daughter whilst simultaneously coping with multiple sclerosis, a social worker approaches their squalid, pizza box-littered home.

The premise for The Monster in the Hall might sound like another dreary slab of kitchen sink social miserablism, but in the hands of prolific Edinburgh playwright David Greig, it becomes a fizzing, genre-subverting comedy musical. It merrily whips along, arming its cast with handheld microphones and leveraging the bubblegum glitz of '60s harmony groups to provide a smokescreen for its weightier subtexts.

At various points during the performance, and at breakneck speed, four actors sing, soundtrack, narrate and soliloquise. They create human props, computer game avatars, motorbike races and conjure a variety of fully-fleshed characters including a light-footed, fashion conscious schoolboy and, most memorably, a brilliantly rendered heavy metal loving Norwegian anarchist on a mission of romance.

But the play’s huge heart is provided by Gemma McElhinney’s luckless Duck (named after her dead mother’s favourite Ducati bike). She's a painfully vulnerable, uncomplaining carer selflessly brushing her own fears under the carpet in a desperate bid to stave off social services and look after dad.

Greig isn’t flippant about the larger issues at stake here, nor does he take a sledgehammer to them, relying instead on an effortlessly charming cast and Guy Hollands’ snappy, resourceful direction to gently lead us home with a tapping toe and a laugh on our lips. And when the dramatic, life-threatening denouement does arrive, a rare moment of quiet descends and the audience lurch forward with a protective paw, pining in unison for Duck’s elusive happy ending.

It's thrillingly beautiful and, like the rest of this joyfully wrong-footing gem, never quite as you might expect.