Review: Cougar

COUGAR at the Orange Tree Richmond until March 2nd 2019

IN BRIEF A short, sharp, shock of a play that leaves you thinking hard about the costs of consumption in all its disguises.

COUGAR is as powerful and stimulating as triple espresso. Rose Lewenstein’s script comprises 80 rapid snapshots of an unequal power relationship where the boundaries constantly shift creating a sense of unease and disorientation for both characters and audience; COUGAR is a compelling ride.

The set is a sterile corporate hotel room, bereft of personality or place, which serves as everywhere and anywhere, in an ingenious design by Rosanna Vize, its cuboid extremities delineating the room but also suggesting a cage. It’s a two-hander show. Leila (as sharply played by Charlotte Randle) is a driven, high-flying executive in her 40s advising companies on corporate sustainability at conferences around the world, emotionally detached and always in control. John (spiky Mike Noble) is a vulnerable, lost twentysomething hotel barman she has picked up for sex, subsequently travelling with her as ‘sex on demand’ in countless anonymous global hotel rooms.

Leila sees sex as a commodity to be bought and sold. John sees it differently, and falls in love with Leila, to his emotional cost. As the thrills repeat, she requires escalating extremes to get the same ‘hit’, calling into question ideas around responsibility and respect, both personally and globally.

Leila’s over-rehearsed corporate spiel comes across as another type of facade, indeed she seems to get more erotic charge talking about her massive salary hikes than climate issues or anything John can do for/to/with her. John, on the other hand is all bewildered masculinity, searching for love, humanity and meaning ever more frantically after each meeting leaves him feeling like every emptied minibar.

Chelsea Walker’s direction is fast, hair-trigger timed and as fully in control as the finely-tuned writing, which integrates some unexpected humour to leaven the tension. Lighting is unromantic and exposing. The sound design subtly brackets the restricted time frames of their meetings, aided by the lightning fast scene changes in blackout, giving the impression of a non-linear rough cut. It’s hard to do well, but these actors achieve this convincingly. Overall it’s a very demanding show technically but perfectly executed. Movement (by Shelley Maxwell) is an integral part of the show and expertly achieved, from the lightning scene changes to the increasingly careless way the characters move and behave (front row, watch out for flying popcorn/ water/champagne/ice) as their relationship deteriorates into chaos, leaving the audience drained but buzzing at the climax of its 85-minute running time.

I simply can’t get it out of my head.

Enthusiastically received by a younger audience than the Orange Tree usually attracts, COUGAR is well worth seeing for its writing, acting and staging. And with seats from £15, it’s a bargain too. Only until March 2nd at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond. More Information and tickets here

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