Sunday, February 13, 2022

MONO - A three-person one-man show.

Written and Directed by Angus FitzSimons.

Performed by Noeline Brown, Max Gillies and John Wood.

Canberra Theatre Centre 12th February 2002.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens.

Described as a three-person one-man show, the concept for “Mono” couldn’t be simpler. A collection of nine comedy monologues, presented in the simplest of settings; a stage bare except for a lectern used for all but two of the sketches, with the sketches performed by three actors who are masters of the art of comedy acting. A skill which is fast becoming as endangered a koalas.   

The writer of the monologues, Angus FitzSimons, also directs the show and provides the voice-overs. Although none of the sketches are particularly original, they are entertaining, and provide his actors with perfect showcases with which to display their particular expertise.

FitzSimons knows his craft, he knows his actors and his audience, and while his sketches are deliberately aimed at an audience of a certain age he doesn’t insult that audience with a whole lot of jokes about the discomfits of ageing. Indeed none of the monologues reference ageing, although all require mature actors.

The monologues are remarkable for their absence of coarse language, unusual these days, simply relying on wit and clever word play for effect, with plenty of room for each of the three actors to exhibit their considerable comedic skills. 

Each of the three actors was allotted three sketches. None of the sketches related to the other, and although they would probably deny it, there was an inescapable sense of rivalry as each actor vied to extract the most laughs from their material.

Few actors do passive/aggressive better than the ever- elegant Noeline Brown. A veteran of years of intimate revue both on stage and television, Brown gets to display this skill as the viperous mother-of-the-bride, who, brandishing a full glass of champagne, decides to address the guests at her son’s wedding ensuring that no guest escapes her diplomatic insults.

Brown is equally at home as the stern Headmistress of St. Gabardines admonishing her recalcitrant students, only interrupting her harangue to issue demerits to a particular unfortunate named Daphne, or as a joyful lecturer in mindfulness gaily dispensing dubious advice and expounding the virtues of non-knowledge.

John Wood took a pot-shot at bush poetry, convulsing his audience as The People’s Poet delivering a series of deliciously ridiculous verses. Later he was an auctioneer conducting an estate auction for a wealthy collector of the unusual, whose prize possessions include a Stradivarius banjo He then topped both these, as a very funny, self-important, law enforcement officer delivering his report on an incident in hilarious police jargon.

Any opportunity to see Max Gillies strut his stuff is not to be missed. A supreme clown he demonstrated his art in two wordless pieces, firstly as a Symphony Orchestra Conductor responding to a dis-embodied voice providing the narration to “An Old Person’s Guide the Orchestra”, then as a bemused Art Gallery patron re-acting wordlessly to a voice-over description of the artworks on view, pivoting effortlessly to pathos, when he recognises his long dead wife as the model for a confronting painting by Lucian Freud.

Between these two pieces Gillies reminded the audience that he does indeed still have a fine voice, when as a well-meaning minister of religion he delivered a nonsensical sermon on “Questions”.  

 “Mono” provides a superb showcase for three of Australia’s finest comedy actors. Avoiding the exaggerations of the satirists they mine the material in search of the well-placed line or phrase with which to create a memorable character and shine a light on unique and often hilarious human foibles.

 “Mono” is touring widely so if it comes your way, don’t miss the opportunity to experience these masters doing what they do best. And by the way, take the time to read the excellent program, which is provided free at each performance. No doubt written by FitzSimons, it’s an unexpected delight. 

   This review also appears in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.