The Empty Space
Tristan Bates Theatre and touring
Voices, not very clear, what is going on? A boy in bed in blue hospital pyjamas; he says the lights went out; something is beginning. He is Cuddy (Cuthbert isn't an easy name at school) and it doesn't take too much to work out that he is in hospital and having an operation. An operation that is just beginning. He is only eleven years old but for the second time he is being given a new heart.
Soon Cuddy has a friend, another pyjama-clad boy called Den who appears from behind or underneath the bed. Is he an imaginary friend, who at one point appears, like Cuddy, to have been a blue baby, still blueberry blue because his blood is not properly oxygenated, or is he the dead boy who will be the donor of Cuddy's new heart? With the boys' strong Scots accents and excited delivery it is not always easy for a Sassenach to catch everything they say but it doesn't really matter for this is all set in the mind and the imagination, reality mixed with fantasy, and all are possible. Actors Scott Hoatson (Cuddy) and James Young (Den) play them with such vigour and sensitivity that you simply caught up in the next thing that they are getting so involved in.
Dan is encouraging Cuddy to make sure that all those things stored up in his memories and emotions don't get taken away with his old malfunctioning heart and so we revisit some of them: an imaginary island, earliest childhood memories, playground games, even a first love, a girl to whom he never declared his feelings. Memories and emotions that can be released from the many drawers beneath the hospital bed or take off floating with a balloon.
Forty minutes later our blue boy is pink and the operation over as the lights go out again. They have kept an audience of school children quiet and concentrated, laughing often and clearly reacting to those things that touch on their own experience, especially of family situations.
Heartbreak Soup, based by its writer/director on experience as a 'clown doctor' in an hospital in the North East (The Empty Space are a company from Newcastle-on-Tyne), does not set out to details the specifics of organ-transplant surgery; it is a metaphorical journey, an emotional sharing, aimed eight year olds and up. But it would provide teachers with a launch pad for discussions of such issues or even of hospitalisation in general.
At Tristan Bates Theatre until 17th June then Carriageworks, Leeds 20th-22nd June, Whitby Hall, Ellesmere Port 24th/25th June and returns to Tristan Bates Theatre, London 28th June - 1st1 July 2011
Reviewer: Howard Loxton