The Play at Eight – Monkey’s Paw – Space Theatre, London – Review
by Eamon Somers
The Play at Eight is set in the recording studio of British Empire Radio Corp, sometime in the 1930s. The real audience are cast as the studio audience, laughing, applauding or being silent as directed. The play to be broadcast is a radio play based on a short story called The Monkey’s Paw by WW Jacobs and included in collection published in 1902. The cast consists of the sound effects man, the director, and husband and wife actors – the Everetts, and a cameo appearance from an expert (in “native” practices) from the British Museum.
The Monkey’s Paw is a tale from Victorian Imperial England, the Everetts have a son working in India. He sends them a monkey’s paw which is reputed to grant wishes to whomever is holding it. But the wishes are also reputed to bring about unintended consequences. Needless to say the Everetts make wishes which appear to be granted, but also trigger the unintended consequences.
Play at Eight is a satirical look at a radio studio in the 1930s. The accents are plummy, the characters are dressed formally, the technology is of the period, the sexism and alcohol consumption are what we would expect. The sound effects (Foley artistry) are amusing, the expert happy to imply magic monkey paws are a fact of life.
The cast perform well in their parts, and the director did advise the audience to close their eyes to help block out the radio studio and help suspend disbelief. But as the very amusing rehearsal scene included the deconstruction of the sound effects right in front of us, disbelief was inherent. Had there been a little more character development it might have held my attention. But other than the ultra-stereotypical bickering husband (drunk and flirting) and wife (number seven and long suffering) there was little in the way of exploration of the relationships.
Publicity material describe the endeavour as an homage to early radio and on that level Play at Eight works and was enjoyable.