You’re not likely to meet three much more different women in 50 minutes than Lily, Sadie and Ruby, but all are revealed in acute detail and vivid characterisation by Angela Jackson, until now better known as a writer than an actress.
The main character of the Darling Monologues is male – Mark Darling. The clever part is the way his story is told through the women’s funny but unsentimental stories, all woven around him.
Lily, the first character we meet, is Mark’s Aunt Lil. She’s making Brownies for Mark, wandering around in her hair curlers, and unravelling his story with dry northern wit.
It quickly becomes quite a dark story, as are all three, with heartbreaking incidents revealed with a stark and matter-of-fact casualness. But there is huge warmth, nevertheless, and some truly funny moments as other incredible characters are whisked out of the air like magical 3-d snowflakes, and the story of her misread flirtation with another woman is comic genius.
After a break punctuated by voices murmuring about Mark – some may be employers, werk colleagues, friends, Ruby appears.
Ruby is a painter, and another girl who loves Mark, for whom things might have been very different in life. And she reveals the dark, tragic event in Mark’s life that lies at the heart of these monologues, and explains the deep shadow in his life that he can’t ever escape.
Ruby’s monologue ends with her revealing a full-length portrait of Mark – laid bare literally and metaphorically. This is an astounding act of theatre – this is the first we have glimpsed of the central character, and we now know he’s a broken man.
Another break to allow the third character, Sadie to appear, and the same cacophony of sometimes clear, and sometimes indistinct voices fills the gap, with further little teasing insights into who Mark Darling might really be.
Sadie arrives in style with two fistfuls full of upmarket shopping bags, and drapes her suit carrier over Mark’s portrait. She’s visibly pregnant.
She’s Mark’s wife, and this baby coming along has transformed their lives. But the journey towards making this baby happen has its own darkness, and humour. Failure to conceive. Fertility apps. Lentils and caviar. Bananas. IVF. Debt.
As with all of these women’s stories, there’s a humour, hope and big hearts at the core of even the darkest aspects of their tales. This is where Jackson’s genius for revealing character through apparently simple stories shines. She is a brilliant storyteller, and has a natural, human warmth which shines through in all of her characters.
This is the kind of performance that sticks in the memory long after you’ve gone home and got on with your life. You might realise how lucky you are, or you might start to dwell on the darkness visible just under the surface of the lives of your own friends and family. But it’s a life-affirming warmth and generosity of spirit that remains the most outstanding.
Do go and see this dark, but gentle, loving and beautiful performance. You’ll love the way the stories evolve, and the way you get to know these women well in just a few minutes with Jackson’s polished and delightfully delivered performance. She not only writes these characters well, she brings them to life with uncanny ease.
And just a note, this is a great venue – there’s a fully licensed cafe at the back of the room, so you can enjoy the show with comfy open-plan seating and a drink in your hand.