Embark on a journey to the morbid corners of the human psyche  with Bafta winning actress and burgeoning writer Monica Dolan

When audiences turn up for The B*easts, Monica Dolan’s debut solo show, which Monica Dolan should they expect to find? Will it be the Monica Dolan who starred as Tracey Pritchard, the Welsh communications officer in W1A, solemnly repeating her catch phrase, “I’m not being funny or anything”? Or will it be the Monica Dolan who gave such a harrowing portrayal of Rosemary West in Appropriate Adult that it won her a Bafta?

“I hope it’s neither of those,” she laughs. “It’s very much a piece of storytelling theatre. There might be some grim humour in there, but I wouldn’t expect to be skipping out of the theatre.”

This, then, is the serious face of Monica Dolan. Her play has some weighty concerns: the sexualisation of children, the pornification of our culture and the inescapability of social media – especially for a younger generation that has known nothing else. It asks whether a child whose world has been redefined by technology can trust her own desires. “If you’re immersed in a sea of information, then how aware can you be of other choices?” she says. “The play is to do with what’s feeding into our brains.”

There were two triggers for the play. The first came while researching another play, when Dolan kept having conversations with teachers about the pressure children were under to live up to impossible sexual ideals. The other, when she was away on a Groupon spa holiday with friends. In the swimming pool, a statue caught her eye: “It was a visual trigger, a statue that looked like a child but an adult as well.”

Am I right, I ask her, to suppose the asterisk in The B*easts stands for the letter “r” or is that just my warped imagination? “Whatever’s in your head is fine!” she says. “And that’s how I want it to be for everyone. If you put an asterisk in something, it draws more attention to that word. The good thing is it leaves a bit to people’s imagination.”

Although known as an actor, Dolan has been quietly branching out as a writer. As well as completing a screenplay, she has re-written a four-part historical drama currently with an independent television production company. “I’ve been a secret playwright in my bedroom,” she says. “When I did The Twits at the Royal Court there were parts where you would improvise with the audience, and I really enjoyed being able to say what I liked.”

Despite her acting pedigree, she didn’t initially imagine she would star in The B*easts. Only when she conceived the narrator as a character in her own right did she think herself into the part. “I had to think outside the box after I’d written it to make it theatrical and feel like it was happening now,” she says. “We live in interesting times and I’d like people to think about these themes with me.”

WORDS Mark Fisher

PHOTO Alan Harris

WHERE & WHEN

The B*easts, Underbelly, Cowgate, 3–27 August (not 14), 6pm, from £6.50 Tel: 0131 510 0395

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