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Hotbed Theatre Festival Double-Bill, Theatre 503 – Review

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: Versatile use of space and set design. Three quick-paced witty scripts directed and delivered with energy and style.
Cons: The emotional moments of Why We Can’t Live Together? need to settle in. Confident this will happen after a few more performances.
Our Verdict: Three enjoyable, witty pieces, well worth seeing.
Credit: Menagerie Theatre Company
This was my first trip to Theatre503, having heard many things about the venue and its reputation for new writing. Menagerie Theatre Company presented three pieces from Hotbed Cambridge Festival of New Writing for our (evident) enjoyment. 
Why Can’t We Live Together? tracks the life of a couple from proposal through parenthood and eventually to divorce. The play is broken into episodes, each given a title, which performers Jasmine Hyde and Mark Oosterveen announce before each scene. The set, designed by Nicky Bunch, features objects on small shelves along the left and right walls. These objects range from a pair of red shoes and a wine bottle to a baby blanket and a child’s art project. Over the course of the play, they are used in the scenes and then transferred to a shelving unit the back of the space. Not all objects are transferred, indicating we are being shown select moments from the couple’s life together. Some are even discarded in favour of others. These objects build in the background of the scene, suggesting the mounting history between the couple. This device explicitly informs the action onstage and reminds the audience of what we have witnessed before. One of the most elegant and inventive uses of props I’ve ever seen. 
Hyde and Oosterveen work well together, playing off each other and delivering some very funny moments. Waters’ writing is witty and pacy and you are drawn into the story with ease. There are scenes which subtly reference global events of terrorism and attitudes to the war on terror. While these moments are done very well, they remain in the background of the narrative, and I couldn’t help but feel that if there were more references in more scenes it would communicate a stronger political message. However our attention stays with the specific narrative of the couple. There are some excellent moments of tension, particularly during arguments, but the more emotional lines are just shy of the mark. However, taking the rest of delivery into account, these moments will definitely come further into the run. 
After the interval we were treated to two more short pieces. Both solo performances which gave us a chance to see Hyde and Oosterveen separately. 
Somniloquy features a woman in a sleep study. We see Jasmine Hyde in bed from a bird’s eye view; the bed is vertical with Hyde standing to show lying down. The shelving unit at the back has been covered with a blind and has a live feed close up shot of Hyde’s face projected onto it. A very invasive, clinical view. The nameless woman’s continuous thoughts, in waking and dreaming, are presented to us; a constant stream of anxiety. No wonder she has trouble sleeping! To watch someone in this state is exhausting as you will her to quieten her thoughts and rest. The rest never comes and she awakes declaring she’s back to the office. A bleak snapshot of an all too common problem. 
How To Begin is a vulnerable, anxious monologue delivered beautifully by Oosterveen. He begins by clearing the stage of the set from Somniloquy with a gentle annoyance. The projector is turned off, blinds are drawn up to reveal a perfectly ordered collection of files, boxes and papers – which have replaced the items from Why Can’t We Live Together?. A very nice reveal – there has been a lot of attention to detail in the design and execution of the piece. 
The clean design practically serves all three pieces, tying the work together. Similarly the decision to have two performers delivering all pieces, instead of a cast of four, feels appropriate. It reminds us we are being presented with a collection of work by the company. It is the writing which is being showcased by a very able team. All three pieces are delivered with excellent pace. Both performers command the stage and audience’s attention well, both alone and in partnership. 
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

The Hotbed Festival Double-Bill runs at Theatre 503 until 9th November 2013.
Box Office: 020 7978 7040 or book online at www.theatre503.com

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