Writers have as much potential for peril as for reward when they seek either to be pungently contemporary or conceptually bizarre; execution of the former must be wholly on the money to have its desired impact, whilst the latter calls for a production which encourages its audiences to gladly suspend disbelief. In Cuddles, IronClad Theatre Company’s Joseph Wilde takes a stab at planting his flag in both camps, with variable results.
Tabitha keeps her younger sister Eve secluded in the attic of her London house. Tabitha is a textbook ball-busting boardroom bitch, inadvertently set on the path to love with a man suing her for assault. Eve may or may not be a vampire; still more curiously, she is the easier character to buy into. Wilde does well to capture her pubescent angst, sisterly dependence and yearning for humanity, and Keri Penford Baker delivers a sensitively tuned performance to match; each new question gently teases her lips into an inquisitive smile, every disappointment registers instantly in wide, woebegone eyes.
Daisy Dugmore does her best with the weaker role of the stronger sister, but her dialogue is – for all its surface cruelty and crudeness – hackneyed and singularly unshocking. Tabitha’s actual occupation is ill-defined, but her often self-loathing position as an agent of capitalism both moral and fiscal seems to be an entirely overblown attempt to locate the play in a modern world where attic isolation may in fact be preferable to the city. Further ironies abound: Tabby’s tendency to use sexual attraction to exploit men makes her the very definition of a vamp, whilst it comes as little surprise that the same woman who, she confesses, “is the banks”, does not in fact enjoy Monopoly.
Nevertheless, though director Tom Brazier may place a little too much stock in the instant blackout, he has his cast using the space well, and ensures that sparks materialise if not fly in their scenes together. In charting the development of their relationship, Dugmore thankfully gets a chance to hint at the caregiver/breadwinner conflict beneath Tabby’s impenetrable surface, and whilst the final scene discoveries feel inevitable, there are some stellar moments along the way. One particularly macabre revelation will have you struggling to look at jam jars in the same way again, and is played so straightly that what might be campy B-movie fare is truly chilling; one only wishes such impactful dramatic focus could be maintained consistently throughout.