Writer: Rose Lewenstein
Director: Chelsea Walker
Reviewer: Scott Matthewman
One of the many downsides to corporate travel is that every hotel room ends up looking much the same as any other. That plays into the literary and design aesthetic of the Orange Tree Theatre’s latest collaboration with English Touring Theatre, which continually flashes forward to a succession of identikit bedrooms.
Charlotte Randall’s Leila is a jet-setting speaker at environmental conferences, putting the case for corporate sustainability. If companies can find a profit in doing the right thing, they will do it, she reasons. And yet outside, the world burns as the reality of climate change induces mass migration, extreme weather conditions and civil unrest.
The title, Cougar, implies a predatory relationship between Randall and Mike Noble as John, the young barman who she pays to accompany her on all her foreign trips but who she refuses to introduce to her business colleagues. And there is a common thread between Leila’s conference talks and her relationship: the thought that money can solve, or even compensate for, the inherent problems.
Director Chelsea Walker keeps up the tensions and attractions between Randle and Noble throughout, ensuring that their unusual symbiosis becomes the most believable aspect of this speculative work. And the gradual deconstruction of Rosanna Vize’s deceptively simple bedroom set is an effective, if rather too literal, parallel to the global unrest outside every window out of which the mismatched couple morosely gaze.
Lewenstein’s dialogue has a repetitive element to it, mirroring the uniformity of the multiple rooms Leila and John inhabit. But that also carries with it an element of uselessness: their relationship develops through entropy and atrophy, rather than at the behest of the characters.
There’s a sense of futility at play here, and that, unfortunately, bleeds into the experience of watching it. Cougar’s biggest statement is that talk and bluster will do nothing to change anything, and it becomes an illustration of its own point.
Runs until 2 March 2019 | Image: The Other Richard