November Spawned a Monster – Alex Broun and the existential Leap. (Theatre Review)
November Spawned a Monster
Old Fitzroy Theatre
28 October to 15 November – You can grab your tickets here.
If there is one experience that unites us in our youth, it is self loathing. We will never hate ourselves as much in our lives as we do under the age of thirty. The youthful passion for music surely is indirectly connected to this, as we cling to something beautiful, that touches us deeply, in a hope we will be changed, transformed away from the person we feel growing inside us that we will inevitably manifest. It’s one of life’s great tragedies that you will not be the things you hoped to be as a child, or teenager (or if you do, it will not be the way you imagined) and we spend the bulk of our twenties resisting this fact we’ve already subconsciously accepted and our thirties telling ourselves we’re glad we’ve finally accepted our adult nature, subconsciously resisting the severe depression that ought to accompany the discovery. It sounds bleak, and some music, such as The Smiths, are able to tap into this inevitable journey down this one way street perfectly so that they can elevate the misery of it to a kind of spiritual martyrdom to life. If we can’t all get off on The Smiths, then there is always having children, decorating the house and shopping at malls to distract us. Love could be the antidote to life, a kind of euphoria we experience as we place our hearts and souls in the hands of another person who (hopefully) reciprocates at least their own version of what we’re feeling, but even love can occur as a mish-mash of all the ME that came before it appeared and we know that we can trick ourselves with desire and love just as well as we can trick ourselves into needing too much sugar, wine or crack.
If this all sounds terribly depressing, then the good news is that into one’s forties, you get over all that shit and just get on with the rest of your life, your fading youth the ultimate wake up call to shut it and just start appreciating what you have.
William is a young person so filled with self loathing that he can only hope to self medicate out of it. When life tosses him anything truly good, he screws it up with the reckless ruthlessness of youth, the self that assumes life, love and people are in plentiful supply and all you have to do is go out to a club and pick up more of anything you want. He gathers the good folk around him, good being those who care for him and love him, only to vomit on them when he is forced to face the part of himself intimate connection inevitably excites. William hates himself and he goes into a desperate panic when anyone gets close enough to see him to see the ugliness he usually hides behind his beauty and his skinny jeans. William is a Smiths fan, a Morrissey fan and a drug addict. He will take each of these three things in any form he can at any time of day, if anyone gets too close to him.
When I spoke to writer Alex Broun about November Spawned A Monster, he shared in a vitalised way about the impact of Felice Vaiani, a strong and independent woman with cerebral palsy who had impacted his life, and all those she connected with. The Felice of November Spawned a Monster (named after Morrisey’s song about CP) is so dynamic, her confidence leads her to pursue an intimate connection she senses with William, an exquisitely beautiful man. It is foolish to imagine all our emotional and physical fears associated with weight, beauty and aging only affect us. People like Felice are experiencing them as well, only she is also in the twisted cage of her overwhelming physical presence coupled with our disturbing desire to “normalise” everything. (A shout out at this point to the Old Fitz who have no ramps in the pub, itself a process of ‘normalising’ society to fit unholy standards – might be time to fix that!) November Spawned a Monster is the story of what happens when something rare and beautiful finds our ugliness and has the courage to love us anyway.
James Wright, under the careful direction of Rob Chuter, is the William of November Spawned a Monster. Crucial to the role is the way Alex Broun has laced the music throughout William’s narrative, and Wrights voice is able to capture the spirit of Morrissey’s tone, so that Smiths fans need not worry – this is a play written by a Smiths lover, for Smiths lovers. No cringy moments, no “OMG – he doesn’t GET IT” experiences at all. Wright, Chuter and Broun all “know” The Smiths, and it’s a rare pleasure to see our relationship to music that becomes the soundtrack to our lives, expressed so clearly and incorporated so seamlessly into theatre. William’s story is not an easy one to tell, and Wright takes it on earnestly, perfectly embodying the modern young man with all his foolish excesses. Wright plays William as the empty figure he is, and I found myself hanging off every word he delivered. Chuter’s direction is subtle and yet nimble, keeping Wright moving, using his body to engage. A series of film sequences playing like memory-fences on either side of Wright as he tells his sorry tale by Christopher Pender work well to keep the audience close to the narrative, and Ben Brockman’s lighting is typically creative, astute and remarkably aligned with all the plays nuanced rumbling currants. November Spawned a Monster is a must for all Smiths fans, but it’s an equally engaging evening filled with questions that can only be properly answered by taking a hard look at ourselves.