Barak Marshall: Monger, Barbican Theatre, London
Friday 15 October 2010
"Yes, Mrs Margaret," says the woman, speaking into a microphone. "I'm sorry, Mrs Margaret. It won't happen again." She vanishes into the dark, pulled away by her fellow servants. There may be dark deeds going on, but Barak Marshall's Monger slips right back into comedy and bouncy Gypsy music. His characters' domestic struggle has a soundtrack that includes retro adverts for traditional Jewish food, with close harmony jingles for gefilte fish.
Monger is driven by its shifting soundtrack, from Balkan folk music to those 1940s adverts. There's more retro styling in Maor Zabar's costumes. Men and women start out wrapped up in shaggy fur coats, taking them off to show neat dresses or trousers in rusty colours. The men wear cream shirts and braces, some with waiter's aprons.
Two of the men sit side by side, each wearing one woman's shoe. When they cross their legs over, and drape a black dress between them, they create an imaginary woman, sitting in the middle. A nodding black hat shows her head, leaning towards one or the other. Even though she's invisible, she bosses them about, snuggling or slapping them.
The puppetry is quick and lively: Marshall and his dancers have good comic timing. They have good timing in the pure dance sections, too. Moving in unison, they dip and turn to folk rhythms. A slow swing of the arms will snap into place, the phrasing full and crisp. Some dances are for the whole company; in others, the men stamp and swagger.
Marshall seems unsure just how dark he wants this story to be. There's an obvious contrast between the shiny house-proud adverts and the toiling domestic workforce, but the comedy of the old adverts has more weight. Monger is stylish, but can't quite decide how hard to bite.
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