Full length monologues are difficult things to pull off, the risk is to hold an audience’s attention with just one solitary performer and in many cases it feels that I have just been talked at. Another reoccurring problem is many monologues start strongly and then fizzle out with the weight of the story on one character. So hats off to Butterfly Psyche Theatre and the team behind Bike for not just putting on a great monologue but for one of the best pieces of theatre I’ve seen this year.
The question ‘Do you remember the first time?’ pervades throughout Katherine Mitchell’s script because sometimes the first time can leave a lasting impact. The play opens with a young girl receiving a bicycle bell as a present and she dreams of her first bike which will surely follow. We – the audience - watch beautifully played out snap-shots of a lonely child slowly learning to make her own way without stabilisers or parental control. The metaphor with the bike and the character’s journey through love and life is subtly played out and never feels heavy-handed.
Having been bought up in a religious family our character’s first time is at Christian camping retreat to a smooth-talking, Sun reading, non-believer and it is this experience that largely shapes her future love-life. She quickly discovers the simple truth that ‘Men like sex’ and comes to the conclusion that giving men what they want will make her feel wanted - which takes her down a promiscuous and ultimately unsatisfying route. The character reels off a list of all the casual relationships she has had, which never stray into Bridget Jones style cliché, but instead feels completely believable and contains some great laugh out loud descriptions of her conquests. The play is funny but it also has real emotional depths and her reaction and actions when she does finally meet a man who is interested in her for more than simply sex is genuinely touching and sometimes heart-breaking to watch.
Playing Bike’s protagonist is a demanding role for any actress as the character evolves from an energetic child through to a disillusioned middle-aged woman but Jenny Johns’ performance is utterly believable throughout. It never feels like she is performing but instead the actress completely immerses herself in the character from start to finish.
More than any other form of writing for the stage a monologue can either expose a playwrights weaknesses or showcase a writer’s strength and in Mitchell’s case is very much the latter. With a script which is both witty and feels completely real it manages to show the character’s transition through the various stages of her life so you really care and route for the character and hope she has a positive resolution to her situation.
Pulling together a great script and performance is Nancy Medina’s sharp direction. The action and movement on stage is vibrant and never static. The director seems to completely understand that a monologue is still a play that needs to utilise the whole stage and hold an audience’s attention rather than a performer stood centre stage narrating events.
Bike had a short run in Bath and only a limited run here at the Bierkeller Theatre and I really hope that this production has the opportunity to be performed elsewhere so more people get the chance to see a really memorable piece of theatre.