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This short play from Jim Cartwright was competently and confidently delivered by a talented group of actors from the Lancaster University Theatre Group. Set in and around a large bed, some surprisingly mature themes were tackled through a range of creative and entertaining set pieces.
The melancholy opening chorus, “When I close my eyes, where am I?”, indicated the surreality of what was to follow. A dreamlike investigation into each character’s psyche followed as each one awoke in turn. Of particular strength was the Scotsman’s frenzied shanty, harking back to traumatic times at sea, which were still haunting his dreams. With clever use of blue fabric, the rest of the cast impeccably captured ethereal still water and tempestuous rough sea, at once reverie and nightmare.
Indeed, the stripped-back set, comprising only the bed, two sets of bookshelves, a carpet and chair, demanded strong acting from the whole company, who thoroughly delivered. They should also be noted for their inventive use of props throughout, for example when each character was handed a traumatic item from their past – a child’s shoe/a plank of wood. Their implication needed no further elucidation beyond sobbing. The spotlight concentrated on the bed itself highlighted the pseudo-solitude of sleep, switching briefly to the chair on the other side of the theatre where an old man pondered true loneliness.
Cartwright wrote well about aspects of old age in many of his plays; Bed explored notions of senility and feebleness, memory and dementia, through song, eulogy, monologue and paean. The dreams melded into one another, with some degree of continuity provided by the portentous humour of the two moving-portrait ‘sermon heads,’ driven insane by their deprivation of sleep.
Although the speech delivered by one of the old ladies about a loveless former partnership with a man was well given, it was certainly unexpected – out of place even – in a play that until then had no admission of tragedy. Whether or not this was the intention, it undoubtedly perturbed the audience for a short while.
Overall, despite the occasional hiccoughs coming through the speakers from the sound technician, LUTG’s performance of Bed was praiseworthy. Although the audience was close and the setting informal, some members perhaps tried too hard to physically engage with the audience, venturing right to the back row of seats. The young cast should ultimately be commended on their sophisticated handling of a complex and challenging script.