This review was originally written for The Public Review.
Produced by Menagerie Theatre Company in association with Theatre 503, the Hotbed Festival for new writing from Cambridge presents a new one act play and two short plays inspired by the collaboration with Thought Leaders as part of What’s Up Doc? series.
The first of the evening is Why Can’t We Live Together? by Steve Waters charting the relationship of a couple through a period of thirteen years. Using a series of scenes labelled such as Proposal, Purchase and A Birth, they are snippets of domesticity detailing with the ups and downs of their relationship. This period is marked by events of 9/11 and 7/7 London bombings, together with discussion on the war in Afghanistan and Libya. it not only highlights the couple’s ideologies and whether their opinions match or differ on these issues, it is a reminder as to how these events affected everyone’s life during those years. The intensity of these short scenes gradually builds up from the mundane, such as deciding on a destination for day outs, to more serious decisions such as careers and their daughter’s education, culminating in a major crisis in their relationship.
The dialogue is to the point and dense with meaning with some gems of a line. The production design by Nicky Bunch has a modernity about it and props from each scene are shelved mirroring accumulation in life generally. Jasmine Hyde and Mark Oosterveen make a convincing couple with all the nuances of emotion as the relationship progresses. This is altogether a delightful play, well written and acted underlined by an interesting concept.
The first of the short play is Somniloquy by Craig Baxter and explores themes on sleep and stress of modern life, focusing on an evening assessment in a sleep clinic with a highly strung career woman. Written in collaboration with Prof. Richard Horner, Professor in Medicine and Physiology at the University of Toronto, it examines the potential of a working mother’s hectic life and how these stresses manifest themselves in her interrupted and disturbed sleep. The speech is a mixture of anxious outbursts while she struggles to fall asleep and short, truncated sleep talking reflecting a deeper psyche which gives a surprisingly full picture to her life even for a short play. The staging is a clever combination of an upright bed, a projection from a close up camera and a good use of echo to emphasise some of the speech. Jasmine Hyde as the patient handled the awkward upright bed very well and showcased the stresses and strains with gusto despite desperately trying to fall asleep at the same time.
A clever scene change which touches on the subject matter of the inability of starting a story with a clean slate, brings the final piece How To Begin by Hisham Matar. This play explores the the quest for originality and the mechanics of storytelling. The presenter on stage, played by Mark Oosterveen, reminisces about a fragmented mix of events and emotions addressing an imagined audience while having a dialogue with them. Written In collaboration with Dr Devorah Baum, lecturer in English Literature and Critical Theory at the University of Southampton, it is a more esoteric piece with the ambition to explore the concept of self. It may not be entirely obvious from the play, which is at times difficult to follow, the overall point of the piece can be inferred. While it may not be enjoyable in a conventional sense, there is a much to digest.
Overall, this is a very high quality set of plays which explore the various facets of modern life and supported by a well executed production.