Clocking in at just twenty minutes, Monologue is the shortest main feature on the Pinter at the BBC set, but even with this brief running time it’s still unmistakably Pinter.
The staging is simple – a single room with one occupant. The unnamed man (Henry Woolf) addresses an absent friend represented by an empty chair. As the monologue progresses, several questions begin to form. Is his friend dead? Or did he ever exist? And what about the black girl, who drove a wedge between their friendship?
Watching the plays on the set in transmission order, the parallels between this and The Basement helps to highlight the way that Pinter always returned to certain themes (for example, how male friendship can be disrupted by the arrival of a female.
Christopher Morahan, who had directed two of Pinter’s Theatre 625 plays a few years earlier, treats the empty chair as a character in its own right. Therefore just as the camera occasionally zooms into Woolf, it also does the same with the chair. A simple camera operation, but it’s still very effective.
With Woolf addressing the empty chair rather than the camera, the viewer is therefore placed in the position of an outsider, taking a voyeuristic interest in the unfolding drama.
This is reinforced by the way that the camera begins proceedings outside the door before entering the room (and then at the conclusion of the talk discreetly exits).
Henry Woolf’s friendship with Harold Pinter dated back to the 1940’s (as detailed in this Guardian article). His relationship with this piece would also be lengthy (he performed it again at the National Theatre in 2002).
A fairly neglected piece, Monologue doesn’t offer any startling revelations, but it remains a memorable Pinter miniature.