Isla Cowan’s Come Back To Bed is an exploration of new beginnings. Clara and Ben have been sleeping together for three and a half weeks; today he wants to go out in the rain, but she wants to stay indoors, in bed, so they do. Beautifully set in Queens’ Fitzpatrick Hall, the pared back stage makes exquisite and unusual use of the space. We are sat amongst the rubble of potential, the white bed and the haphazard piles of books letting the audience in to a domestic intimacy.
Jessica Murdoch and Christian Hines’s portrayals of Clara and Ben respectively should be applauded over and over. Clara is written as a “horrible person”, cynical and distant, whilst Ben is “a needy little puppy”. Both actors take characters steeped in stereotype and add nuance, turning them into sympathetic, relatable people. Murdoch’s expressions flit between rage, aggression, and gentleness; Hines maintains a buoyancy in his movement and remains believably optimistic throughout.
Physical theatre is incorporated smoothly into the piece. Its standout moment is the dance scene where the two characters dance back to back on the bed, Ben gradually becoming more gregarious whilst Clara closes into herself and goes still, a perfect representation of what their relationship has been up to this point. Jonathan Ben-Shaul, movement director, wows with his choreography. Complemented by nostalgic music, it is incredibly effective. The Frantic Assembly-style repetitive movements serve to highlight the repetition of feeling, the mellowness of a day spent in bed. The actors push and pull each other in tandem with their mood.
Cowan’s dialogue is pertinent, funny, and poignant. However, the writing is peppered with an overuse of metaphors and similes, often about how Clara’s mind is like the sea, and although some of this over the top poeticism works, a lot of it serves to detract from the otherwise beautiful naturalism of the piece, and instead pins it in cliché. The initial jolts in the plot succeed in picking out the various elements of love that Cowan wants us to think about, but the play is eventually let down by its own excess of dramaticism. The shift in power between the characters is heavy-handed, and by the end the plot begins to lose sight of the heartbreaking, mundane, rainy day it portrays.
At its core, the play strives to be an honest exploration of the messiness of the potential of love. It succeeds in its production, in its tone, and in its aesthetic. It captures the essence of a feeling exceptionally well. For the audience, it hurts to watch what feels like destruction coming together. The two characters, on stage throughout the whole hour, are confined to their need to be in each others’ presence. And we are reminded, “we all think we’re in love at the beginning, don’t we?”.