Review: Monster / Woman at Fringe Hub: Trades Hall - Quilt Room

By Jacqueline Luty

Monster/Woman delves into the unpredictable, mysterious and complicated layers of Medusa with an important reminder that there is more to everyone than just a single story, or what is kept to '200 words or less.' The hard work and process that has gone into forming this intelligent text and multifaceted piece of theatre deserves great admiration! Perhaps at times the text could prove complex for some to follow, however, the physical theatre, black comedy, imagery and rhythm of the work more than make up for any confusion you may be experiencing. Sabrina D'Angelo takes on Medusa with great quirkiness and captivating and humorous characteristics. David McLaughlin co-stars, taking on an amusing array of supporting characters and offering a perfect partner for D'Angelo - both genuinely enhance each other's distinctive qualities. Together they share funny interactions, good eye contact and extremely energetic reactions to one another - a perfect pair.

The performance starts with a strong stage presence, which is held powerfully throughout by D’Angelo. Beginning in a dark tone through the lighting and spoken words the rather quick speeding up of the pace forms a tense mood. This reflects the beginning of the reoccurring confusion for Medusa and perhaps a symbolic death of her stereotypical portrayed self. She has found herself in a limbo (cue limbo song and fun party lights) like place, struggling to answer questions about herself because she seems to suffer memory loss. In an attempt to remember and understand past customs she begins to go through a collection of videos, hoping to figure out more, only to find she feels like she keeps reaching a dead end.

D’Angelo’s impressive facial expressions alone are worth the experience. You won’t be able to take your eyes off her and yet you (gladly) won’t be turned to stone. The great detail she directs and/or expands her gaze to and the extension of her mouth through exposing her teeth or sticking out her tongue must be highly commended. D’Angelo’s costume is simple and practical, especially for particular scenes when something needs to come off or go through somewhere. A green eye-catching snake wig adds to the performers’ great character embodiment of the infamous Medusa. McLaughlin’s strong voice and his adaptability to morph from interview voiceover, hairdresser, storytelling parent, Athena and other characters enlighten the piece. 

The minimal but witty set, prop and costume pieces (especially the crafty handmade ones) are vital and enrich the performance. This is so D’Angelo is able to show (or not show) parts of her body in absurdly fantastic ways, which continuously generates laughter from the audience. The ‘table’ would set the scenes when they were in limbo (cue limbo song and fun party lights reprise) and it is also reused throughout the piece, sometimes in altering ways. You will be amazed by the simple props used, like the glove and salvaged can that are maneuvered as an unusual puppet. This puppet is a clear (pun intended) choice to visually allow a simple injection of dark poison, alienating and bringing the audience to a halt. Good decisions like these over a blank canvas do not restrict the performers and allows for sharp transitions throughout the constantly changing time and space.

From the moment you walk into the space of Monster / Woman, you might wonder why a plant is there and what they’re going to do with it. Soon enough with the effective use of a dark stage in-between strobe light you unexpectedly realise a clever change. The strobe lighting is repeated effectively at a later stage to give a similarly powerful impact. The lighting seems very straightforward with colours like green symbolising scenes with a focus around Medusa or bright harsh lighting on D’Angelo’s face as an effective focus to her facial detail. The transitions between scenes or characters are very sharp and well executed with the support of the lighting and sound. There are no delays and the actors know exactly when to stop and start, as they are clearly prepared and listening to each other. The sound and sound effect choices are fun allowing a connection or contrast with the movement happening. Whereas some are interesting and help set up a transition from one tape of Medusa’s memory to another.

Become absorbed into a dynamic world of absurdity that cleverly and very unexpectedly breaks through the surface level of stories. Monster / Woman explores the unbalance of power, the idea that one story doesn’t define a person and that all these stories of Medusa as a ‘monster’ do not entirely define her.

Monster / Woman is part of Melbourne Fringe Festival, playing at Trades Hall until Sunday the 29th of September.

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.