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Hotbed Festival of New Writing – Soho Theatre, London

Writers: Steve Waters, Craig Baxter, Hisham Matar

Collaborators: Professor Richard Horner, Dr Devorah Baum

Directors: Paul Bourne, Patrick Morris

Reviewer: Andy Moseley

[rating:4]

hotbedThe Hotbed Festival of New Writing has been an annual event in Cambridge since 2002, featuring one-act plays, short works, guest productions and workshops, produced by Menagerie Theatre Company. This year a sample of the festival is being presented at Soho Theatre, with a different combination of one-act and short plays on each night.

First up on night one was Steve Waters’ Why Can’t We Live Together? a one-act play consisting of seventeen short, individually-named, scenes showing a relationship at high speed against a backdrop of The War on Terror. By the end of the play, the relationship has irreversibly changed while the war on terror continues, as ill-defined and far from resolution as it was when it began. However, the strengths of the play are not in any corollaries that can be drawn between the domestic and international disputes, but in the way the relationship is skilfully depicted over the course of the chosen scenes.

Assemblage and three scenes each called Playtime, are quick snapshots capturing perfectly the trials and tribulations of day to day family life, while A Consultation and A Prayer, focusing on parents evenings and changing attitudes to external events, make wider, equally-recognisable observations about the backdrop to our lives. But it is the more emotionally charged scenes, An Accusation, A Severance and A Handover, that are the most effective, capturing the changes in the characters lives and their reactions to the changing circumstances with Waters naturalistic dialogue making the situation and the characters equally compelling. Jasmine Hyde and Mark Oosterveen both give strong performances with Ooseterveen particularly convincing as a man more carried along by events than an active participant in the things shaping his life.

The second half of the evening consisted of two short plays written and created in collaboration with Thought Leaders – leading academics in their areas. The first, Somniloquy, written by Craig Baxter in collaboration with Professor Richard Horner, gave an excellent insight into what goes on while we sleep through the eyes of an insomniac being monitored in an attempt to provide an explanation, and a possible cure, for her problem. Hyde gives a superb, captivating, performance, switching between the different states of the sleeping process, from the niggling thoughts that keep her awake, through the inconsequential images they mix with as she starts to fall asleep, and onto the dreams where seemingly random images mix with real people at a frenetic pace as her mind works through events making little sense of them. The storyline, and Baxter’s script put the thought side of the equation into an engaging situation that draws you in and keeps you interested throughout the play.

The second short play, How to Begin, written by Hisham Matar in collaboration with Dr Devorah Baum was less successful. The play attempts to look at the myth of originality and our inability to grasp our own life story. It is a more philosophical piece than Somniloquy, and while it contained a lot of intelligent and potentially thought provoking material, it suffered from a lack of focus or any central storyline to suggest the monologue was leading to any conclusion or defining observation about the question it sought to respond to.

While this was a disappointing end to the evening, there was still more than enough in the first night of the programme to warrant returning, and it’s hoped that Menagerie and Soho Theatre will continue to work together to bring excerpts of future festivals to London.

Runs until 27 July 2013

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