Review: Bed

Pippa Smith 20 November 2016

*** CONTENT NOTE: the production this article discusses is trigger warned for sexual violence and miscarriage ***

The striking tableau created onstage by the cast of Bed as the audience entered the theatre set the tone for a bizarre, intriguing and saddening performance. The sleepers stood upright, with a white sheet and pillows suspended around them, and the surrounding set gave an effective impression of the abstract dream-world the characters inhabit.

This play is an ambitious challenge, particularly on a student budget, as its very form demands innovative staging and set design. The production team behind this rendition did a fairly good job: the use of projection onto the bed sheet was particularly well thought out and added excellently to the dream-like emotional intensity of certain moments. But overall the production choices left the performance very static, making it difficult for the actors to maintain the initial energy of the piece.

A couple of, admittedly minor, points need to be made about the lighting: though the lighting plan was often successfully atmospheric, there were moments where it hindered the performance. The key monologues were performed in a harsh spotlight which, because the actors didn’t seem to be front-lit, cast shadows across their faces so that facial expressions were completely obscured. Frequent and sharp changes in lighting sets felt somewhat disorientating and clunky, where slower cross fades might have been slicker.

The acting was generally of a good standard. Shimal De Silvai must be commended for her energetic portrayal of the Sermon Head, particularly considering the staging choices limited her almost entirely to use of only vocal and facial expression. Maya Yousif gave an emotive rendition of her final, poignant speech which provided a cleverly jarring moment of emotional realism within the abstract domain of the play. Unfortunately, the whole performance lacked any dynamic tension and so truly powerful moments such as this lost their shimmer amongst many lulls in pace and vigour. I cannot decide if this was a symptom of staging and directorial choices which were a little too restrictive, or a slight lack of commitment to the dramatic style on the part of the performers.

If you are going to put on a play that relies on expressive movement and elements of physical theatre, then every movement of the actors must be decisive and actually expressive, rather than lack-lustre and undefined. A particularly low ebb in this respect came as two actors did a really poor job of frantically ‘looking’ for a glass of water amongst the relatively minimalist set; there was almost no true commitment to this action. Sustained energy and dynamism is something which I don’t feel is beyond the capabilities of the team behind Bed. So many elements of the production appear to have been well devised and choreographed: there were some truly powerful, exciting theatrical moments in the play. It is just a shame that these could not be unified to produce a coherent whole. I found myself willing the actors to make more daring decisions, rather than just appeal emotively to the audience, in order to truly portray the strange and nightmarish limbo in which they appear to be trapped.