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Review of Hotbed Festival Double-Bill at Theatre 503

| Theatre | 25/10/2013

Mark Oosterveen and Jasmine Hyde in Why Can't We Live Together - part of the Hotbed Festival Double Bill at Theatre503

A lively evening of new theatre saw the highlights of The Hotbed Festival performed in one of London’s most progressive venues; Theatre 503.

First up, Steve Waters’ Why Can’t We Live Together? portrays a journey through love, childbirth, adultery and separation. In just fifty minutes we gain an insight into a couple’s most intimate moments; mapped ominously on the timeline of the War on Terror. Waters’ theatre is stripped of fluff and baggage. Not once does either actor leave the stage and the props are displayed throughout on a shelving unit upstage.

There is a prevailing honesty to Water’s work that comes of this bareness. The characters announce each chapter of their life together to the audience, before acting out the scenario; without hesitation they announce ‘a proposal’, ‘a purchase’ and ‘playtime’. When it comes to ‘an accusation’ and ‘a severance’, Oosterveen’s character looks hesitantly at Hyde’s before making the announcements. Their evident sense of reluctant duty to act out their story to its conclusion invites the audience to be included in their intimacy.

Jasmine Hyde and Mark Oosterveen do Waters’ clever script justice through the subtlety of the decline of their relationship. Hyde, at first bubbly, gradually becomes subdued and angry while Oosterveen’s passion merges into guilt and misery. The chemistry of their early days invokes that butterflies-in-stomach feeling. Their arguments are believably infuriating, their reactions to the terror of recent years; so horribly familiar. In Hyde’s last address to the audience she asks ‘don’t you think its been a dream? What will it take to wake us up?’.

Do we in the audience have any more control over our lives than the actors following Steve Waters’ script?

 

Jasmine Hyde in Somniloquay 1 - part of the Hotbed Festival Double Bill at Theatre503

 

After the interval Craig Baxter’s Somniloquy takes up the dream-baton in his play about an insomniac over the course of a night’s sleep. Jasmine Hyde is back, even more trapped than before, in a vertical hospital bed. Covered in wires, tubes and monitoring devices, Hyde’s restless bouts of sleep are fraught with sleep talking. She reveals her worries about work and her anxiety about her daughter. In her waking hours she tells of her boredom and her fear of losing her competitive edge through lack of sleep. The play’s real success is in evoking the frantic life of a character who, throughout the play, never leaves her bed.

The final play of the evening, Hisham Matar’s How To Begin, is a Beckett-esque piece that examines the very purpose of a beginning. Mark Oosterveen’s excellent performance relies on his body language and facial expression giving the impression that he is communicating a narrative, while the words he speaks convey the exact opposite. His monologue is a series of introductory phrases that either end up going round in circles, or not going anywhere at all; ‘I was there and she was too and we met.’ ‘Some days… we won’t speak of those’.

Somehow this is piece is not frustrating at all, but incredibly powerful. The closest we get to character development is when Oosterveen repeats; ‘she kissed me well, and my chest swelled, and it hurt and I wanted it’; first haltingly and then with conviction. Though this phrase seems incongruous, its rhyme and rhythm, along with Oosterveen’s fervent delivery, have a real potency.

Oosterveen’s meandering avoidance of a narrative is punctuated by very personal questions, hurled at the audience. The direct address, ‘how cruel are you when you are cruel? How much damage do you do?’ comes out of nowhere, making it all the more thought provoking.

Overall I enjoyed a wonderful evening of new and exciting theatre. The binaries of waking and sleeping, passive and active, dreams and reality resonated through the three plays; three plays which succeeded as a trio because they collectively asked more questions about life today than they provided answers for.

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