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Zoo and Seven Monologues

by on 7 July 2021

It’s All Happening at the Zoo

Zoo and Seven Monologues

by Lily Bevan

Teddington Theatre Club at Hampton Hill Theatre until 10th July

Review by Andrew Lawston

It’s the first night back in sixteen months for Teddington Theatre Club at Hampton Hill Theatre, and the sense of relief, excitement, and goodwill is palpable.  Artistic Director Lottie Walker marks the occasion with some brief words of welcome and receives warm applause.

And without further ado, we’re off for a half-dozen monologues by Lily Bevan.  These brisk and well-observed pieces are performed on a plain set, with effective costumes from Lesley Alexander (the sheep with a plaster cast and crutches for Nativity was particularly fun) and occasional props; a wheelbarrow for Helen Geldert’s enthusiastic gardener in Allotment, or a glass of red wine for Rebecca Tarry in Bridesmaid, sipping laconically as she takes the microphone from a boorish best man, and deconstructs the often agonising tradition of wedding speeches.

The clear winner in the props department, however, is clearly Heather Stockwell’s food cart in Tudor Feast, featuring a dusty pigeon pie and topped by a wonderfully surprised-looking peacock.  Stockwell’s cheery sales pitch, in the face of a litany of increasingly blunt customer feedback, is a joy to behold.

Helen Geldert’s indignation over her son’s A-level results, and her ex-husband’s adventures, also strikes a chord with the audience. 

The seven monologues are performed with breezy aplomb, and Tarry, Stockwell, and Geldert all deliver their text impeccably and with wonderful comic timing.  Some of the pieces are probably stronger than others, but none outstays its welcome and many left the audience wanting more.  There’s a brisk pace to proceedings, and directors Linda Hansell and Kelly Wood are to be congratulated for making seven monologues on an empty stage feel like truly dynamic theatre, through plenty of movement, and great performances.

The second, and much longer, half of the show is a one act play, Zoo, directed with pace and flair by Josh Clarke.  Hurricane Jonas is bearing down on Cherokee Valley Zoo, and zookeeper Bonnie (an indefatigably chirpy Lara Parker) rushes to secure the animals.  Meanwhile in Yorkshire, Carol (a somewhat more acerbic Caroline Ross) attempts to introduce schoolchildren to the joy of bats.

Fiona Auty and Patrick Troughton dress the stage a little more thoroughly for Zoo.  There’s a bench in the middle, and medium-sized boxes ring the playing area.  Meanwhile charmingly-painted signs for Cherokee Valley Zoo and North Yorkshire stand to stage left and right, respectively.

Zoo hinges on the friendship between Carol and Bonnie, although they only meet in a couple of short scenes, and on the contrast between them.  Bonnie is full of warmth and passion for her job, and the animals in her care.  Carol is more prickly, despite her wonderful hat with a fluffy bat perched on top, and there are shades of a Reece Shearsmith League of Gentlemen character in her dealings with nervous teachers, and the schoolchildren who insist on naming a tiny bat after Ariana Grande.

The two women bond over their love of the natural world, and laugh over their experience of a male colleague (a syrupy voiceover from, as with all the evening’s voices off, Charlie Golding) who uses the exact same chat-up lines on both of them.  Their friendship is convincing and real, but it takes a dramatic event at the halfway point to really tie their two stories together.

When Hurricane Jonas finally breaks, sound effects from Harry Jacobs, and effective lighting from Gary Stevenson, heightens the drama and complements Parker’s committed performance as Bonnie elects not to abandon the animals.

The play features a couple of plot contrivances, most obviously the video footage of Bonnie’s ordeal throughout the storm, but also the caves that Carol’s son decides to explore for his Duke of Edinburgh Award.  But the assured pace of this production, and the great performances from Parker and Ross, are more than sufficient to paper over any small cracks in the story.

A note in the programme from Lottie Walker acknowledges the challenges in staging theatre in “the new normal”, but this was a first-rate evening’s entertainment, and it felt that everyone involved with Teddington Theatre Club were absolutely raring to go after their long long break and they put a fantastic amount of effort into the production.

Andrew Lawston, July 2021

Photography by Joe Stockwell

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