Herding Cats

Lucinda Coxon
Play With Fire Productions
Hope Mill Theatre

Kayleigh Hawkins Credit: Lucy Ridges

Lucinda Coxon's play is loaded with all the existential angst and abusive sexual imagery of a '90s 'In Yer Face' drama, but below the surface are two intertwined unrequited love stories about lonely people.

Justine (Kayleigh Hawkins) and Michael (Daniel Bradford) live together, but are just flatmates. Justine comes home from work ranting about Nigel at work, whom she describes as an old hippy, who really annoys her; but, in the old tradition of the romantic comedy, she grows to like what she initially despises.

Michael stays in the flat and works on a sex chatline for men, but becomes rather too attached to one of his clients, only referred to as "Saddo" (John Gully), who gets him to pretend to be his daughter, Juliet—which may seem touching if it weren't for the masturbation and threats of physical punishment.

The play toys around with love, flirting and abuse and pushes at the boundaries between them. Although originally produced in 2010, the few modern references—PayPal, iPads etc—look like surface dressing that could easily be removed to leave a play that could be from a couple of decades earlier.

The dialogue, particularly Justine's, is in fractured half-sentences (Mamet-like), leaving gaps in the speech that echo the huge gaps in our knowledge about the characters: Michael is confined to the flat following something unspecified that happened in the past and there are mentions of claustrophobia and ME; Justine's job is never specified, but, according to her, she is very good at it; the real story of "Saddo" and his daughter remains buried. The playwright doesn't even hint that she knows the answers to these mysteries.

Lawrence Evans's production uses the in-the-round space of Hope Mill in its smaller studio setting well on Elizabeth Wright's basic set. However the quick-fire dialogue is too hesitant to really come off. Justine's lines in particular sound as though they were written to tumble out, falling over one another, changing direction and subject in a flash, but there are too many pauses for thought or gaps for acting.

Other than that, there are decent performances from the three actors. It's a bleak and stark tale but, in the end, the lonely people who thought they wanted something else seek refuge in one another, which is where they started.

Reviewer: David Chadderton

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