Sometimes it is hard to find the right word to describe an experience and, after 80 minutes of Cuddles, I am speechless. Written by emerging playwright Joseph Wilde, Cuddles intoxicates the audience with its unique cocktail of dark tale, realism and a supernatural touch. Now immersed in its UK tour – and after a first run and tour in 2013 – this production will be taken to New York in summer.
This outstanding piece of theatre finds its greatest strength in its actors: Carla Langley as teen vampire Eve (nominated for Best Female Performance at 2013 OFFIE’s for this role) and Rendah Heywood as her sister Tabby are nothing short of phenomenal. Langley is absolutely convincing, endearing and threatening – all at the same time – as Eve, in a physical and energetic performance that sharply contrasts with Heywood’s, who could seem spiteful and full of hatred, but also vulnerable and at times someone you could even relate to. Together they are the dream team of this production, clashing and struggling with their traumas and fears.
The author here is as important as the actors, for Wilde’s text is fast, realistic, straightforward yet strangely poetic. The scenes where Tabby interacts with other (invisible) characters are among the best: incisive, foul-mouthed and destructive. They make us not to want any additional actors on stage (it is great there are not!). The clear contrast between everyday talk – and harsh remarks – and the language the two characters share is also remarkable, blurring divisions between drama, thriller and even acid comedy. We feel trapped in Eve’s bizarre fairy tale world.
The appropriate, unobtrusive set – designed by James Turner – sets the tone for the action as a derelict bedroom that looked as if it used to be a child’s room a long time ago. Clever lighting – by Pablo Baz – distinguished between the scenes taking place in the room and those taking place elsewhere, so there was no need for any set changes, making the overall action fluid and seamless. But everything would not have worked that well without a strong direction, and that is exactly what this production has. Ovalhouse’s Director of Theatre and Arch 468’s Chief Executive Rebecca Atkinson-Lord – with an array of productions under her direction like The Sluts of Sutton Drive for Finborough Theatre and The Flies for Crescent Theatre in Birmingham – keeps the pulse of the action fast, and a perfect balance between tenderness and harshness, allowing space for the (few and welcome) comedic moments.
As a whole, Cuddles is nearly everything one should expect from an evening at the theatre: emotional, a great story, superb acting, great directing… and a final twist: an unmissable dark and daring experience.
Cuddles is playing Ovalhouse until 16 May. For more information and tickets, see the Ovalhouse website.