Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Mongrel Island

Ed Harris
Soho Theatre
(2011)

Mongrel Island production photo

The idea of an anarchic comedy set in an office has been tried before. However, the results have never been quite like Ed Harris' take on the subject.

It might help readers a little to learn the text of some graffiti revealed at the end of the play. This is drawn from e.e. cummings and reads "there's a hell of a good universe next door". One suspects that Mongrel Island might be taking place in that universe or, failing that, in the dreams of its central character Robyn Addison's Marie.

The poor girl is in a probationary period doing the dullest job in the world for a new employer. She and two colleagues collate medical records and, for excitement, copy type files.

Early on, the only indication that something might go awry is the kind of witty banter that was outlawed long before political correctness arrived but can nevertheless still be extremely funny.

Leading the stakes in viciousness is Only Joe played by Simon Kunz. This middle-aged clerk is even-handed in his insults, as happy to make obscene suggestions to Marie as the more seasoned "Elvis", Shane Zaza complete with rocker's quiff and growl.

The trio are kept hard at it by their charmless manager, Golda Rosheuvel in the part of the inappropriately named Honey - given her sourness, Lemon might have been more the thing.

The 90 minutes are then filled with oddity. Everybody gets to tell a tall tale, with a 40 foot prawn and dead relations particularly sticking in the memory. Beyond that, they carry out their duties, fix bicycles and pair off for sexual shenanigans when they are not working through the night.

Just when the antics of this quartet begin to pall, there is a new arrival in the form of the magnificent Joanna Holden playing almost silent Pippop, a gypsy-like foreign char.

Despite an inability to speak English, she is a lovable creation who might well have stepped into this show from Ghost but has the ability both to amuse and touch the heart of viewers.

If this description sounds as if the reviewer has lost the plot, so experimental is this work that finding one is a problem. The playwright has written Mongrel Island with the intention of challenging and provoking, so that it gains much of its charm and energy from intrinsic unpredictability.

Ed Harris is certainly a different kind of writer and has the ability to make audiences laugh, so who knows - maybe this is the future of theatre?

Reviewer: Philip Fisher