Jay Palombella performs a compelling and emotive monologueJoshua Shortman with permission for Varsity

Daisy Shaw’s Summer with Monika teases out that elusive gap between poetry and theatre, with Jay Palombella’s engaging performance competently filling it. It is a highly intimate production which brings the intricate vulnerabilities of love into the spotlight. Summer with Monika is performed entirely by Jay Palombella who provides a raw perspective of what it means to love, and to be loved, by injecting a new drama into Roger McGough’s poetry translated for the stage.

“Teases out that elusive gap between poetry and theatre”

Summer with Monika breathes life into McGough’s poetry of the same name. We’re witness to Roger’s journey through a love panged with jealousy and possessiveness. The performance is seen entirely through Roger’s dramatic monologues, exposing one side of a relationship fraught with the consequences of what appears to be an, at times, unshared love, punctuated with short musical interludes which provide a short respite from what is a highly compelling piece.

Jay Palombella’s subtlety of performance keeps the audience fully absorbed: his incessant finger-tapping and fidgeting both display his jealousy and unease in a changing relationship, he only stops at the very end. Palombella’s characterisation of Roger is convincing: his sudden shifts between erratic movement and reflective stillness draw in the audience’s breath, especially during his suffocatingly, frantic display of jealousy where he accuses Monika of going on “a date with the kettle” with wholehearted conviction. Palombella perfectly realises director Daisy Shaw’s vision when translating the poetry to the stage, pairing an energetic expression with McGough’s disarmingly poetic language to foster a deeper insight into his understanding of love.

“Not even The Beatles can take the spotlight away from Palombella’s captivating performance”

The music threading passages together is well matched to the complex emotions portrayed by Palombella. The band (Charlotte Lampe, Chloe Fisher and Robert Allen), led by musical director Max Pullinger, offer teases of instantly recognisable 60s hits, played just long enough for the audience to catch on before Shaw chooses to have all attention thrown back to Roger, fumbling around his flat starting his next monologue. It is effective, ensuring that not even The Beatles can take the spotlight away from Palombella’s captivating performance of McGough’s words, while providing a sense of a familiarity that paints a comfortable backdrop to what is sometimes a difficult study of the sadder aspects of love.

The 60s setting is not only heard through the music of The Doors, The Beatles, and The Kinks. It’s seen through costume designer Martha Gazzard’s selection of shirts and jumpers characteristic of the time and through set designers Maddy Guha and Sarah Cunningham’s modest flat, complete with classic low armchair and turntable. It is compelling and intimate, reinforced by its being performed in the round, permitting an exceedingly close look into one side of a relationship. The audience surround ruminating and restless Roger, and as the plot develops, so does Palombella’s command of the set. All aspects of the simple set contribute to deepening this exploration of love, be that the bed adorned with memories of Monika or the kitchen table serving as a stage for quarrels.


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The somewhat wanting climax first leaves the audience clawing back to hang on to Palombella’s last lines. Yet it is clear the ending tries to encapsulate Shaw’s ultimate vision, presenting the sometimes unsatisfactory realities of love, despite a perhaps unpolished execution. That said, Summer with Monika is a persuasive consideration of love and what comes after. Shaw’s absorbing translation of poetry to theatre makes for a distinctive show and it is Palombella’s embodiment of this translation that kindles a lasting impression of love’s true, enduring nature.

Summer with Monika is showing Tue 26 - Sat 28 October at Pembroke New Cellars