Review: Troubled Sleep

25 April 2013

ADC, Ladies Toilets, Tues 23rd- Sat 27th, 8pm and 9.30pm

Troubled Sleep shows the reunion of two sisters after the younger, Becky (Victoria Fell), leaves the ‘old country’ to get away from her crazed father, experience the city and persuade the older, Anna (Hellie Cranney), to return home. Throughout the sisters argue, each attempting to undermine the other’s position by claiming greater awareness of what is ‘really going on’ in their parental home and in the world Anna has escaped to. This conflict leads to the elder, Anna, claiming the upper hand, laughing at the youth of her sister and teasing her with the prospect of taking her to a ‘dance.’ Despite cleaning toilets throughout the play, Anna maintains this upper hand, refusing to entertain the idea of returning home, even while Becky re-enacts her father’s obsessive pleas for her to return.

The play alludes to great darkness in the family home and in Anna’s romantic relationship in the city. Sexual abuse is hinted at regularly, with Becky reiterating the idea that their relationship with their father could either be one of sexual abuse or of blank disinterest, which could see its counterpart in Anna’s relationship with her boyfriend. The mood in the discussion of the broken relationships is often detached; powerful memories are recalled only to be dismissed as possible fantasies.

Becky’s description of a strange family on the train, with no luggage, but a jar of honey, was perhaps the most interesting part of the play, as it raised questions about her feelings of being invisible and her doubts about the distinction between dreams and reality. But despite the opportunity for poignant ideas and dialogue at this juncture, the play failed to develop it, as it quickly moved on. The play repeatedly raised questions and failed to answer them. This may be a result of it being just twenty minutes long, which made it difficult for the audience to become invested in the development of the characters despite the high quality acting.

A particular strength of this play was the use of the staging space. The unusual setting, in the ADC ladies toilets, did lead to some quite strange announcements by the producer as the audience entered, but it was not made the centre of the piece, and served the purpose of allowing Anna to really be involved in cleaning the toilets throughout the scene, while providing an intimate performance space. The set was entirely appropriate, and didn’t feel as though it had been used solely to be unusual.

The play was originally written by Jose Sanchis Sinisterra in Spanish, and the translation was partially completed by the director, Isolde Penwarden. Although the attempt to bring more foreign writing into Cambridge student theatre is commendable, it is unclear whether Troubled Sleep offers anything particularly innovative as it seems to skim the surface of many issues without providing space for deeper insight.

The brevity of this piece meant that the ambitious translation and setting of Troubled Sleep was not matched with enough thought-provoking content.

Emma Weleminsky-Smith