Monologue collections are great, but they’re only the start. There’s a wealth of great choices, whether you need to prepare for drama school auditions, a self-tape, or just want to keep building your tool kit. Here are five contemporary monologues for women that will take you off the beaten track of audition pieces and help you avoid the usual fare.
We’ve put together speeches with a range of playing ages but it’s better to pick something based on whether or not it resonates with you, not just because it fits your casting bracket. All are by superb writers and from plays that should be genuinely rewarding reads. A short set of notes accompanies each piece with some context and ideas for direction.
From My Heart’s a Suitcase by Clare McIntyre
You were right. There has been a drunk in here. I met him.
That’s why I don’t like being on my own. Whenever I’m on my own I get cornered by some loony who wants to tell me the story of his pesky life. It always happens to me. Always. If there’s a loony out there he’s going to find me.
I met a bloke once who wanted me to help him buy a coffee because he was disabled. Disabled my foot, he was carrying a crash helmet. He’d come on his motorbike. But according to him he was disabled. He wanted me to help him buy a coffee. He wanted to know if I would like one. So I ended up buying us both coffees and talking to him. And you get the whole life story and it’s just depressing. It’s incomprehensible and you know you’re never going to clap eyes on that person again and you’ve got their sadness and queerness to cart around with you for the rest of time… It’s quite a line isn’t it? “Can you help me please, I’m disabled.” We’re all fucking disabled. If frailty is the bottom line we’re all disabled.
He smelt too. They always smell.
Why did he have to find me? Why this bloody human dereliction? It’s mad isn’t it, not being able to think of anything to do with yourself apart from destroy yourself, drink yourself into the grave.
I have absolutely no idea what he is like. He just talked from a hole in the top of his head. He hated his wife. He’d bought his daughter a dress watch in Hong Kong. She was an arrogant bitch. He’d lost his wallet. Someone’s cat had been sick down his front, haha.
He was here. He wanted his jacket. It was all covered in crap. He didn’t even notice.
This is from a brilliantly odd play (with talking luggage) set in a rundown seaside flat. In this extract, a homeless man has just visited, and Hannah could either be railing at how men see her as an easy target for attention, or disguising the fact that she craves company by regaling the scene partner with stories of how she’s always bothered by strange men.
There’s plenty to play in either interpretation. The key here is to build a picture of what state Hannah is in when she talks of other people’s lives. Also, remember to motivate the speech, ensuring that the stories of the recent visit by the homeless man, and the story buying another man coffee, build on each other but are distinct.
From Chewing Gum Dreams by Michaela Coel
His lips are thin, and soft, and very pink and one time we kissed for eight minutes, I know coz we started kissing when Craig David’s album was on, and it was like Walking Away, which is three minutes 27 seconds and then we kept kissing after that when Time to Party came on which is like four minutes and six seconds so all together that’s like eight minutes. Eight minutes.
If I look at him for more than like six seconds he starts squinting – he’s not going blind or anything coz they sort of get bigger at the same time, sort of like – I think it’s coz he really likes the way my face is. He says I’m like a little firecracker and he’s like… I dunno, someone smart.
He’s not like those boys that take you cinema just so they can kiss you in the dark, we walk outside holding hands. And he likes the way my face is.
Right now I am looking at the sea for the first time in my life. He blindfolded me and took me all the way to a beach.
I’ve never seen so much water before, and it’s not the water it’s just, I’ve never seen anything like this in the whole course of my life.
“Where are we?”
I don’t actually know where Margate is but I’m guessing it must be like… past Enfield coz we ain’t got anything like this in my borough or in any of the neighbouring boroughs I’m sure.
“Gosh, it goes back for ages. It goes so far, it joins with the sky.”
I feel like crying, but not from sadness. “Thank you.”
Tracey is a boisterous teenage girl who mocks those around her. She’s young, naïve, and hungry for adulthood. At least, she thinks she is. But when she meets Connor, an ambitious white boy, Tracey begins to resist his encouragement to aim higher and think of university. The understated brilliance of Michaela Coel’s monologue play is that although it’s all from Tracey’s point of view, the audience gets to see her from multiple perspectives.
In this speech, we begin with boastful reports of how long Tracey and Connor kissed and end up in a scene where she encounters the sea for the first time and is – for once – at a loss for words and uncertain of her emotions. Although there’s plenty of opportunity for comedy, especially in the Craig David section, it’s worth remembering that this speech only flies when you play the character and intentions, not the jokes.
From Bull by Mike Bartlett
When she hears you’re out of work, her low estimation of you will drop even further. It will. I promise. She won’t be surprised. She won’t be like “oh my god he lost his job!” – she’ll be like “of course he lost his job, the fucking retard. Good job I got out when I could. Wouldn’t want Harry to see too much of him though. Better not let Harry to grow up into this distorted, disabled, fucking image of his fucking drip of a father.” I expect that’s what she’ll think.
It’s tough isn’t it? Life. Is it a lot more difficult than what you’d thought it would be? I mean, I’m sure you thought it was going to be difficult but that through sheer hard work and practice and training and inspiration – and in your case perspiration – that you would come through and in the end succeed. Because you thought, y’know, in this country at least, it was, at the end of the day, a meritocracy. And that fair play and honest, transparent work behaviour would be rewarded in the end. That bad people like me would fall by the wayside. And good people like you would triumph. Is that what you thought? Oops.
If you’ve seen any of Mike Bartlett’s works for stage or TV, you’ll know that he’s the master of people being horrible to each other. Here, in this play about workplace bullying and competition, Isobel belittles a male character. First, she hopes to destroy his self-confidence by suggesting that everyone expects him to lose his job. Second, she suggests that whatever confidence he had was founded on the wrong ideas about how life works.
A key thing to play in this speech are the switches in tone. Isobel is a master manipulator and speaker. In this, she can sound genuinely caring one line and cold the next. And if words are her weapon, stillness and poise might be a great way of showing that (unlike the men in the play) she doesn’t need to physically threaten.
From Lungs by Duncan Macmillan
Look. Alright. Listen, you have to understand, alright, I’m thinking out loud here so please just let me talk, just let me think it through out loud. Please, alright, don’t just jump in if I say something wrong or stupid, just let me think, okay. Because I’ve always wanted – alright – and I’m talking in the abstract, I’ve always wanted, I’ve always had a sense or an idea of myself, always defined myself, okay, as a person who would. That my purpose in life, that my function on this planet would be to. And not that I ever thought about it like that. It’s only now because you’re asking – or not asking but mentioning. Starting the conversation. Only because of that, that I’m now even thinking about it. But it’s always been sort of a given for me, an assumption ever since I was a little girl playing with dolls. I mean long, long before I met you. It’s never been what I guess it should be which is a a a a a a an extension of an expression of, you know, fucking love or whatever. A coming together of two people. It’s always been this, alright – and this will sound stupid and naive. But it’s always been an image, I guess, of myself with a bump and glowing in that motherly – or pushing a pram or a cot, or a mobile above it or singing to it. Reading Beatrix Potter or Dr Seuss. I don’t care, never cared about it being a boy or a girl. Just small and soft and adorable and with that milky head smell and the tiny socks and giggles and, yes, vomit even. It’s all part of it. Looking after it. Caring for it. That’s, I think, the impulse. And there’s always been a father in the picture but sort of a blurring background generic man. I’m sorry, it’s just this picture of my life I’ve always had since I was able to think and I’ve never questioned it. Never.
The speaker is one half of an educated, thoughtful (bordering on neurotic) couple who discuss having a baby throughout the play but come up against the moral dilemmas of having children. Here, after much discussion, the speaker has finally said “yes.” This edited text includes punctuation to make it more straightforward to learn, but the original has only two full stops – one after “never questioned it” and the other after “Never.” Feel free to move the punctuation around or do away with it altogether.
It’s a deceptively simple speech because, although the speaker says she’s “thinking out loud,” might some of this have been in the back of her head for some time? There’s plenty of opportunity to show how you can think “on the line” but it will take hard work and some sharpening of your skills to ensure you never play a moment of this speech “to yourself.” Remember to play the scene.
From Good People by David Lindsay-Abaire
Did I ever tell you the turkey story? Up at Flanagan’s? When I worked up there and she came in? She never told you that turkey story? Huh. She was pregnant with you. No, Jimmy actually – she was pregnant with Jimmy – because it was near Christmas, and your father was locked up in Walpole again, so she didn’t have any money for anything. She had nothing. So your mother comes into Flanagan’s, and she’s out to here. (Indicates belly.) When’s Jimmy’s birthday? January. Right, so she’s out to here, and in this big coat. Remember that blue coat she always wore? And she’s walking up and down the aisles, slipping things in the pockets – potatoes, and cans of cranberry sauce, cookies, because you guys gotta eat, right? So she comes waddling up to my register. And I’m like, “Hey Suzie, how are the kids?” And she doesn’t wanna talk obviously, she’s just trying to push through the line, “Oh they’re good, I was just looking for something, but you don’t have it, so I’m gonna try someplace else.” And then there turkey falls out of her coat. It hits the floor right between her legs. A turkey. Boom. And I swear to god, she didn’t miss a beat. She looks up, real mad, and yells, “Who threw that bird at me?!” (Really laughing now). Oh we died. Everybody there. Ya had to laugh. “Who threw that bird at me?!” She was a funny sonofabitch. Pardon my French. God she was funny. I think about her all the time. Your mother was a good lady. It’s a lesson though. You’re lucky you don’t smoke. Too young, your mother.
Margaret is on a cigarette break at work, talking to her younger boss who also happens to be the son of her dead friend, Suzie. Margaret is gregarious, quick-witted, and often uses comedy to lighten how tough her life is. In this edited extract, she’s telling a comic story to avoid a serious conversation with her boss about being late for her shift. In the original text, she motors through or deflects his interruptions, which is worth playing here.
There’s an opportunity to show your comic timing, movement skills, and explore different voices in telling the story. But there’s also a turn at the end, where Margaret switches from telling a story that makes light of poverty to admitting that she thinks about her dead friend all the time. Try to find the moment the switch happens as well as an intention for it – is Margaret still playing for time? Is she trying to ingratiate herself with her boss? Or something else?
Check out Backstage’s UK audition listings!