Methuen recently commissioned me to write an introduction for a new edition of Sarah Daniels’ Masterpieces, a play which debuted in 1983 and in which Daniels dramatized her politically provocative and powerful radical-feminist critique of pornography. Coming back to Masterpieces I was forcibly struck by the way in which over thirty years later the issue of pornography and a sexist culture at large rather depressingly remains an urgent concern (especially given the meteoric rise of the internet and social media). Equally, my re-engagement with the play reminded me of Daniels’ skill in presenting a serious, feminist issue in ways that are savagely funny (for the feminist spectator at least; the mostly male critics at the time of the play’s original production heaped hysterical scorn on her idea that there is a harmful misogynist thread woven throughout society, from seemingly innocuous, sexist joke-telling to snuff movies).
Daniels’ particular skill in deploying comedy to a serious end is exemplified in her scene-length monologue for the character of Hilary who is a young, working-class, single mum. And given that we have numerous visitors to the ‘Drama Queens Review’ site looking for monologues for women, I thought it would be worthwhile posting these brief thoughts on Masterpieces and Hilary’s monologue in order to draw attention to what a wonderful acting opportunity this affords (especially if you are thinking of audition pieces).
Daniels often uses the monologue form in her plays to interrupt or disrupt dialogue-based scenes so that a character can voice experiences or stories that would otherwise not get to be heard or told. In Masterpieces Hilary’s monologue is a veritable tour de force: an incredibly funny, wittily composed account of Hilary, the teenage expert on contraception who against all the protective odds manages to fall pregnant. Akin to a stand-up comedy routine, the monologue is full of closely observed comic detail and replete with wisecracks, from the unreliability of condoms (‘the machine in the King’s Head pub got “British Made” on it – some cleverdick had written underneath, “So was the Titanic”’) to Hilary’s musing on the name of the Pill she was prescribed (‘Minilyn. I thought if I ever get a little house with roses round the door I’d call it Minilyn’). The sober, more serious side, to this routine is that Daniels allows Hilary to put her side of the story in a way that critiques how as teenagers, she and her ‘mate Shirl’ were labelled ‘slags’ by the boys, and, irony of ironies, how they were deemed by parents and medics to be ignorant about contraception.
In her writing of the monologue what Daniels emphatically does not do is make Hilary an object of fun or ridicule; rather what she does is to allow this socially disadvantaged character the space to tell her own uninterrupted and comically disruptive back-story, thereby overall challenging the received view of a young, working-class, single mum. For an actress this creates an opportunity to comically command the stage; as Guardian theatre critic Michael Billington observed of Patti Love’s original rendition of the monologue ‘one cannot but applaud [her] bravura account of the contraceptive indignities thrust upon women’.
So, for those of you out there looking for women’s monologues to perform, it is well worth looking at this monologue along with others in plays by Daniels such as Ripen Our Darkness, The Devil’s Gateway or Beside Herself.
Fans of Sarah Daniels’ work might also like to know that she is currently writing for BBC4’s radio drama series Home Front