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Preview: Summer with Monika

A deep and raw exploration of love that we can all immerse ourselves into


I was immediately intrigued by Daisy Shaw‘s Summer with Monika when I saw the intimate and domestic settings of the play. Both were translated into Shaw’s rehearsal as she (as well as associate and assistant directors Jules Coyle and Aaron Gillett) managed to demonstrate this in the space.

Image credits: Joshua Shortman

Summer with Monika was originally a set of poems by Roger McGough from the 1960s – a touching and intimate portrait of what it means to be in love, translated and adapted into a series of dramatic monologues performed by Jay Palombella. One question I asked the cast was whether there were any difficulties in adapting poems onto the main stage. Shaw stated that it’s “the poetic language that can present challenges” but also, explained that “there was this fluidity” when translating poems onto stage, adding that “poems create a character decided to be played on stage”.

Image credits: Joshua Shortman   

To understand the nature of love within the play, I asked what the cast’s perspective of love played into this understanding. Coyle outlined that there is this “happiness to have loved than to not have at all” and humorously said that “that’s what it’s like to love in Cambridge”  and it is “pretentious in the nicest sense”, which is why Summer with Monika has such great potential – it’s real and “leaves the audience in reflection” as put by Coyle.

The show being set in the 60s provides scope for creative direction, which led to my next question about influences and inspirations for the play. Shaw and Coyle outlined that “Roger McGough has modelled his approach and taken art at surface level”, with much of Max Pullinger‘s musical inspiration (as the musical director) being drawn from prevalent 60s bands like The Supremes, The Beatles and The Kinks – an overall sensory experience. Coyle outlined that “it was nice to have various different art forms coming together in this one space’ outlining that this play can be seen as an exploration of art, as well as love.

The band (consisting of Pullinger, Charlotte Lampe on drums, Chloe Fisher on guitar and Robert Allen on guitar) create an “intimate and homely” space but also, in an unconventional way, create a sense of vulnerability for Palombella to explore Roger’s character further.

Furthermore, Roger’s (played by Jay Palombella) costume was a nice touch – reminiscent of the 60s. Costume designer Martha Gazzard creates flowy but sharp silhouettes with Roger’s costume choices (wide-legged trousers, jumpers and button-up shirts).

Image credits: Joshua Shortman

I was intrigued by the set and staging of the play (designed by Maddy Guha and Sarah Cunningham). It is set in the round, which adds intimacy for audiences, but also a place for creativity to flourish. There is an active use of the furniture and spacing which was particularly interesting. Watching Palombella’s rapid arm movements against the backdrop of the stationary objects definitely makes “Summer with Monika” a show you cannot keep your eyes off.

When asked why people should watch the show, Coyle and Shaw outlined that “It’s nothing like anything done before. It’s a very different theatrical show and it’s a new way to relate and view yourself and the world differently”.

Finally, when asked how would they describe the production in a word, the crew said this “exciting”,  “nostalgic”, “heart-breaking” and finally, “intense”.

Summer with Monika is showing at New Cellars, Pembroke College from the 26th-28th of October at 9:30 pm. You can find tickets here.