Hotbed Festival

Rating ***
Reviewed by Alex Foott

Hotbed Festival Double-Bill
Directed by Paul Bourne
Why Can’t We Live Together? Written by Steve Waters
Somniloquy written by Craig Baxter
How To Begin written by Hisham Matar

Performance date – Wednesday 16th October 2013

This summer’s Hotbed Festival has yielded up some rather interesting new writing, a sample of which is accessible at Theatre503. A dizzying trio of comical, moving and sometimes disconcerting pieces, this double-bill is performed by a cast of two. They highlight and contrast the dichotomous social concerns of identity and individuality with family and belonging. The surreal approach to each of the pieces has the characters speaking quite honestly with the audience. We are subjected to direct scrutiny and are asked to compare our own lives, and our happiness therein, with those strewn across the stage. Though each of the short plays are quite independent, they have been cleverly clustered together because of their similar themes and the use of the same two actors throughout accentuates the varying sense of self that is pivotal in each of the pieces.

Why Can’t We Live Together? is first in line to demonstrate a universally fundamental concern: that of the fragility of relationships. It begins with a rather vapid newlywed couple who are equal in their lack of notable personality or identity. The husband is generally jocular and carefree while the wife is somewhat mousy and downtrodden and together they provide the template of the typical British couple. Interestingly, this succeeds in severing us from any sentimentality that the story spurts forth and allows us to contemplate the utter uniformity of relationships. While we all think that our relationships are unique, the same joys and woes are prevalent regardless. Each of the scenes are unusually short, some lasting only a minute, and are presented as important moments in the journey from wedding to divorce. As the story unfolds, each scene is marked by the placing of a prop on the shelving unit at the back of the stage, a physical representation of the way in which we document our lives. The tone swiftly drops from jovial to bleak and we are presented with some nihilistic questions.

The next piece is slightly more naturalistic yet is arguably the most distressing of the trio. Somniloquy details one of the most common forms of sleep disorder: sleep talking. It demonstrates how our logical minds become scattered as we enter the realms of slumber and the perplexing effect this can have on those around us. We see a woman undergoing an experiment to monitor her cerebral activity as she ponders various trivialities before falling asleep. When she eventually drifts off, her mind spawns a loosely sensible stream of consciousness that is unnervingly realistic. The final play is called How To Begin and explores the innately human desire to know one’s origins. Equally it criticises our belief, however imagined, that we can start afresh after we make mistakes. Mingling bias with self-correction, this play shows one man’s inability to recall a past relationship exactly due to the emotions and exaggerated circumstances that swirl in his memories. A melancholy look at human interaction, it asks us to assess the damage we cause to others and suggests that, before we ask anything of anyone, we should offer a revelation of our own as payment.

The cast of two are quite suitable in their dual roles, serving as rather blank canvases upon which each playwright can splash their social message. They connect with the script a lot easier in the latter two pieces, both of which are monologues, yet their awkwardness in Why Can’t We Live Together? is wholly appropriate. Mark Oosterveen supplies the majority of the humour with charmingly awkward expression and tone while Jasmine Hyde’s physicality breathes poise and style into each of the pieces. They sensitively balance the conversational script with the structured scenes, enticing us to indulge in this dream-like atmosphere while noting the comments being made on human behaviour.

Theatre503 provides the perfect springboard for such pieces of new writing that wish for an extended run. The choices of subject matter in each of the three pieces are original and thought-provoking yet are accessible to a wide audience. Demonstrating the puerility of human emotions, this double-bill deconstructs the pride of mankind that is the developed brain.