There’s no pretence as you walk into a half-full The Stage at The Royal Exchange Theatre for Joseph Wilde’s piercingly smart and gruesome play – Cuddles.
The set is what immediately draws you as you walk into the dark room. The floor is strewn with ripped and scrunched up newspaper sheets; some half-glued onto the floor. Two steel buckets strategically placed next to each other (one green, one red). A black metal-framed single bed, beside a pile of thick novels atop a bed-side chest of drawers. A child’s pink table with a pink chair in the middle of the stage. There are two actresses; both captivating, both consistently believable in character.
Cuddles is a sharp and bleakly funny exploration of the co-dependent relationship between sisters Eve [Carla Langley] and Tabby [Rendah Heywood]. Teenage Eve lives in Loughton. She thinks she is a vampire. Her favourite meal, which she calls dinner dinner, is her sister’s blood – and she is always hungry. But this is not a house without order, although eerily and disturbingly it seem so, it is one with rules – even for hugs.
“Cuddles”, Eve asks Tabby as she walks into the bedroom which is the setting of most of the play. “Ok, a level 5”, Tabby responds. The entire script is ingeniously written with a clear depiction of how society teaches us that what we consume dictates our identity.
The scenes are seamless with a change of lighting from pink hues to blues signifying the dialogue between Tabby and Eve, and then Tabby and Steve – Tabby’s supposed boyfriend. Sound designer Edward Lewis compliments the disturbingly eerie scenes, whilst Eve periodically goes in and out of panic, as thudding heartbeats are played to atmospheric effect.
There is humour; enough to compliment the dark themes. Wilde manages to find the right balance between creative tales from princesses and dragons to abuse and vampire-like behaviour.
What stands out the most in this play is the acting. Langley is exceptional and thoroughly adopts Eve’s character in the manner that Heath Ledger adopts The Joker in The Dark Knight in 2008. With uncomfortable twitches, licking of lips, walking on all fours with cat-like tendencies, Langley grippingly steals the show. Her character demands ownership and Langley certainly does own it with such authority.
It’s a convincing and stunning play that sends you into the dark with an incredible shiver.
TNT Theatre Review Yasin Chinembiri