Not so much cuddly as bloodily

Cuddles

mac, Birmingham

****

THEY say: “Never judge a book by its cover”. Clearly, on the evidence of this piece, it would be equally wise to never judge a play by its title.

Joseph Wilde's harrowing, intense offering is about as far from any sugar coated sweetness that the title suggests as it's possible to be.

Sure, cuddles do feature within the story, but certainly not in the way Disney would have been proud of.

Thematically, it's all very dark. Mental torture, sibling rivalry and cruelty feature heavily but there are lighter sides - even comedy from time to time.

The plot gives more than a nod to a host of familiar fairy tales. Eva (Carla Langley) is kept a virtual prisoner by her controlling sister Tabby (Rendah Heywood).

Locked away from the outside world, Eva knows only what her sister wants her to know. She is Cinderella and Rapunzel rolleevad into one while her wicked sister rules the roost as a power dressing, potty mouthed Cruella de Ville inspired sibling.

Eva's only template of life is set by her sister. She lives by simple rules - a kind of twisted Ten Commandments. She has no idea about the world beyond her bedroom door and permanently communicates in childlike statements. She believes (because Tabby has told her ) that she is a vampire.

In truth, she would believe she was a pineapple if her sister told her she was - such is her total innocence. As a vampire, she commits herself to the role. No daylight, a need for blood and a fear of mirrors. It may not be real, but to Eva it most certainly is.

Carla Langley is utterly compelling as Eva, switching from childlike wonder to blind panic in one easy turn. Her focus and commitment to such a tough role is impressive. A brave, exposed performance topped with real power.

Rendah Heywood struts with menace as the evil sister, Tabby. It's hard to like her, but that is surely the point. She is not all dark and scary though - she tries at one point to find a boyfriend but it's not easy when you are that high on the terrifying scale.

Heywood plays the comedy here beautifully and provides a welcome respite from her characters' default wickedness. Just like the designer dress she wears, she makes a real statement.

James Turner's stark, paper strewn set is suitably dingy whilst Pablo Baz's lighting adds a foreboding tinge to the overall perspective,

It seems increasingly tougher to get bums on seats these days. This play deserved more than the 25 or so who turned up on the night I was in. It's worth noting that the final leg of the tour is in New York. If it's good enough for them . . .

Directed by Rebecca Atkinson-Lord, cleverly written and beautifully acted, Cuddles is well worth a look.

Tom Roberts

30-04-15

Remaining tour dates

1 – 3 May Malborough Theatre, Brighton www.marlboroughtheatre.org.uk, 01273 273870

6 – 16 May Ovalhouse, Kennington Oval, London www.ovalhouse.com, 020 7582 7680

19 – 23 May Royal Exchange, Manchester, www.royalexchange.co.uk, 0161 833 9833

25 – 26 May Barbican Theatre, Plymouth, www.barbicantheatre.co.uk, 01752 267 131

3 – 28 59E59 Theatres, New York, USA, www.59e59.org, 001-212-279-4200

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