Cougar– at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond
Mike Noble and Charlotte Randle
Okay, let's flip the tables and see what a relationship looks like between a rich, predatory female executive and her smitten plaything of a lover. That's the premise of this new play by Rose Lewenstein. Which is really interesting, and certainly happens, but sadly isn't engaging enough in this particular production to make us any the wiser.
Yes, we have Leila the talon-heeled spokeswoman for any money-spinning business that attaches "Green" to its credentials, all-the-while extending her own carbon footprint as she flies about the globe climbing the corporate ladder and presumably leaving her youth behind her. Tagging along like just another piece of Louis Vuitton luggage is John, a hotel barman who came to Leila's rescue at a conference but who is now out of work for his presumption in decking a guest with an ice bucket.
The fast and furious lines they exchange are excellent, leaping over time and continents; little Kalashnikov rat-a-tat-tats bursting with desire, anger, bewilderment and sadly, inevitably, love. Meanwhile, the excitement of foreign travel wanes into John's boredom with identikit hotel bedrooms interspersed by endless goodbyes. The entire play is set in a corporate hotel bedroom, its confines and inevitable panoramic window well invoked by a perspex-boxed stage.
Leila, played by Charlotte Randle, is clear that she's up for some mind-blowing sex, aided and abetted by high-risk encounters. All of which must start and finish airside of UK Border Control. So far, so familiar. What is harder to understand, is what John, played by Mike Noble, sees in Leila. Well, once the sex and presents become more routine. She will not tell him a single thing about her personal life, never asks him about himself, and in truth she simply doesn't exude enough authority or maturity, despite the job which we never see, to make her a "Cleopatra" figure.
Presumably she's meant to be quite a bit older than him, but these two actors' looks, or maybe the lighting, close the gap and there's nothing in what they say or do that helps ID their ages or suggest it's important. Mike Noble admirably achieves the difficult juggling act of playing someone's pawn while appearing to retain enough sense of self to remain attractive and interesting without prostituting himself. But sticking with Leila makes no sense. Even the world outside their hotel rooms being in turmoil doesn't make it add up.
None of which is helped by the fact that the 75-minute play has written into it almost 80 "breaks" in time and/or space. Director Chelsea Walker, she of the stunning Low Level Panic at the Orange Tree two years ago, has chosen, with lighting designer Jess Bernberg to mark these breaks every minute or so with spotlight bursts so violent it's almost like sitting through slow-motion strobe lighting. Thunder and lightning it may be, war torn parts of the word possibly, inner anger and rage okay.
But be warned it could be a while before your eyeballs recover.
Images: The Other Richard
February 7, 2019