Writer: Lucinda Coxon
Director: Lawrence Evans
Reviewer: Rebecca Cohen
Behind the laughs of the intimate audience at Play With Fire Productions’ latest performance comes a real sense of melancholy and unease. Herding Cats, by Lucinda Coxon, tells the stories of a trio of characters, all crippled by the loneliness of life, but each armed with their own facades and coping mechanisms to get them through the day-to-day.
Directed by Olivier Award-nominated Lawrence Evans, this production marks the companies third visit to Hope Mill Theatre after Orphans in January 2016 and Sans Merci in September 2016. It is safe to say that this is a team who are not scared to break boundaries and convention, running the show without the traditional interval, and often creating uncomfortably watchable theatre as they tackle difficult and sometimes distressing issues, including alcoholism, agoraphobia, incomprehensible livings and warped sexual fantasies.
The small cast, made up of Daniel Bradford (Michael), Kayleigh Hawkins (Justine), and John Gully (Saddo) do well in keeping the pace of the play going, and using the incredibly adaptive and immersive space at Hope Mill wisely – the direction of Evans helping to ensure audiences on every side of the open stage never miss out on the unravelling plot. Hawkins and Bradford work together well with their quick dialogue and often witty dialogue, while Gully does well in bringing to life a character whose sense of nothingness ultimately portrays him as a sick and perverted man. Sometimes the acting can be a little too much on the declamatory side, especially in the more tender moments, but the exaggerated gestures and movements among the minimalistic set do work in contributing to the humour of the piece.
While the play does tackle some extremely serious issues, the air of experimentalism the overall production emits is somewhat overshadowed by the predictable outcome of the show. There is no neat ‘tie up’ of the narrative and no over-arching link between the three characters, ironically meaning it is not too dissimilar to other ‘challenging’ theatre covering the same harrowing theme.
That said, while this play is not the most cutting-edge production of 2017, this is a company who are using Arts Council England funding to stage relevant community performances and who are willing to trial and test divisive material to provide audiences with something new. They are certainly worth supporting as they continue devising and developing, and marking their spot as strong contenders on the fringe theatre scene.
Runs until 3 June 2017 | Image: Contributed