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Hotbed Festival, Soho Theatre

Why Can’t We Live Together 
Steve Waters
Directed by Paul Bourne

Somniloquy 
Craig Baxter, in collaboration with Richard Horner
Directed by Paul Bourne

How To Begin
Hisham Matar, in collaboration with Devorah Baum
Directed by Patrick Morris  

★★★★

Pros: New writing performed with intelligence and heart.

Cons: You could argue the sets were basic, but they were fit for purpose and the writing wasn’t reliant on an ornate backdrop.

Our Verdict: A set of new plays and monologues that are worth making the effort to see.

Courtesy of Menagerie Theatre Company

The Hotbed Festival (which is produced by Cambridge-based Menagerie Theatre Company) has been running for several years – and in the past, commissioned writers were given free rein to come up with whatever they wanted. This time around, Menagerie gave the writers a challenge, to collaborate with thought leaders – experts in their respective fields – to distil scientific and cultural ideas, and shape them into something that has dramatic potential.

For every night this week, a one-act play is performed, along with two monologues. On the night I watched, there was Why Can’t We Live Together, followed by Somniloquy and How To Begin – which were performed by the same actor and actress, Jasmine Hyde and Mark Oosterveen.

Why Can’t We Live Together focuses on a couple who on the cusp of the Millennium, decide to get married. We then follow them over the next 13 years as the up and downs of their lives are seen through the lens of world events – or it could be argued the other way around. As the play opens, international events from the past decade are projected behind the actors to the tune of Timmy Thomas’ eponymous song. In its own way, the juxtaposition of the song and the footage reminded me of the opening sequence of Kenneth Branagh’s Peter’s Friends – looking at personal history in the context of external events. Scenes in the play are short, but they succinctly convey the evolution of the couple’s relationship over time. The play flowed effortlessly between humour, dramatic tension and pathos – a testament to the writing, direction and the skill of the actors.

Somniloquy was written in collaboration with an expert on sleep disorders and it shows. We’re introduced to Nyxie, a woman lying in bed with various sensors strapped to her head and body. However, instead of being horizontal, her bed is at 90 degrees so that it looks like we’re looking down from above. In addition, there is a web cam next to her head – its feed projected onto the makeshift screen which was used in Why Can’t We Live Together. While the monologue deals with a woman who is receiving treatment for her insomnia, it is very obvious from her comments that it is about much more. Here is an important business woman, who is used to being in control and being able to act from nuggets of information. It is also evident that Nyxie is concerned with her career advancement, yet is plagued by her innermost anxieties. At one point in her sleep, Nyxie rubs her arms in a deliberate fashion, which immediately made me think of Lady Macbeth after King Duncan’s demise. Who knew Shakespeare was a student of nocturnal sleeping patterns? Watching Somniloquy straight after Why Can’t We Live Together, I didn’t at first recognise it was performed by the same actress, Jasmine Hyde. It’s to her credit that she totally inhabited this other character and depicted the transitional stages of falling asleep with technical dexterity.

The second monologue How To Begin is about the myth of originality and trying to grasp one’s own life story. In terms of style, aspects reminded me of Gertrude Stein’s Say It with Flowers. There was a playfulness with the repetition and variation of phrases, and even though monologues generally break the fourth wall, the direct questions by Mark Oosterveen to the audience about points he made gave his performance a palpable frisson.

The Hotbed Festival has both intelligence and heart, and to my knowledge, one of the best things Soho Theatre has hosted in ages. It’s only running for one week, but it’s worth making an extra effort to catch one of the evening’s shows. The pieces that are performed vary from night to night, so it is worth checking Soho Theatre’s website to see what’s on offer.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Hotbed Festival runs at Soho Theatre until 27th July 2013.
Box Office: 020 7478 0100 or book online at http://sohotheatre.com/whats-on/hotbed-festival/

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Founded in 2011, Everything Theatre started life as a pokey blog run by two theatre enthusiasts and – thanks to the Entry Pass Scheme for 16-25 year olds – regular National Theatre goers. Today, we are run by part-time volunteers from a wide array of backgrounds. Among our various contributors are people who work in theatre, but also people who work in law, medicine, events, marketing and even psychiatry! We are all united by our love for the London theatre scene.