She Kills Monsters is a window into the Dungeons and Dragons world of fantasy role-playing games by cult Vietnamese-American playwright Qui Nguyen. This comedy-drama was first performed in New York in 2011 and has been brought to the Bournemouth Little Theatre by Arena Theatre to entertain audiences looking for a funny, lively and imaginative alternative, or addition, to traditional Christmas pantomimes.
Set in a small Ohio town in 1995, amidst the early days of the internet and a backdrop of 1990s’ pop music with a radio DJ commentary, She Kills Monsters introduces a distinctly average Agnes Evans who has recently lost her parents and 17 year old sister, Tilly, in a car crash. Agnes unexpectedly discovers a Dungeons & Dragons notebook in Tilly’s possessions, and aided and abetted by Chuck, a geeky oddball student, she is quickly absorbed in the fantasy world her sister created. This is a world featuring a dominatrix demon and a blood thirsty female elf, both with sexy gay personas, and a green gelatinous shape shifter who transforms into an effigy of Agnes’ boyfriend, Miles. It is also a world that leads to a journey of personal discovery for Agnes and reveals the trials of Tilly’s adolescence as she struggles with her sexuality and unrequited love.
During the course of the play, Chuck – played by Gavin Rand, who also plays Steve, another nerd – becomes one of the play’s most endearing characters, managing the balance between awkward and authoritative as the Game Master while overall showing the warmth and good nature of a true friend to Agnes and Tilly. Chuck also has the majority of funny lines, delivered with aplomb by Gavin Rand.
Maia Gibbons, as Agnes, and Deana Penn, as Tilly, both convey strong performances with convincing American accents and an understanding of the difficulties of a relationship between two sisters with an age gap of 7 years and different sexual orientations.
But then everyone in the relatively large cast delivers in fine style with their supporting roles in both the fantasy and real world of the play.
She Kills Monsters is probably best suited to a small and intimate stage like the Bournemouth Little Theatre, though at times it can be somewhat crowded when all of the actors are present, which requires the fight scenes to be well choreographed in slow motion (a clever tactic)! The sparse set is lifted by attractive panels used for the scenery, painted by Agnes Stevens, and the costume designer and puppet maker clearly know the Dungeons and Dragons’ dress code.
This play is not just for fans of Dungeons and Dragons or The Big Bang Theory; it reverberates a deeper and heartfelt tale of growing up, friendship, loss and acceptance that most, if not all, people will experience or recognise at some point in their lives.
Indeed, in the programme notes, Director Rachael Cheeseman explains: “She Kills Monsters may seem an odd choice for a Christmas production. However, at its core the play is a tale of love, family and pulling together in times of need, which is a message that runs through some of our most beloved Christmas classics”.
See She Kills Monsters at Bournemouth Little Theatre from 20 to 22 December 2018.