In the aftermath of a tragic accident a once seemingly ordinary suburban family grieves the loss of a son and brother. The New Theatre’s intelligent and highly emotive production of Simon Vinnicombe’s ‘Cradle Me’ conveys the devastation of death, love and lust as each family member finds perverted solace in the dead boy Neil’s best friend and neighbour, Dan (James Bentley). A modern day kitchen sink drama, ‘Cradle Me’ provides the audience with a gritty portrayal of the breakdown of a family, set to the visceral yet ghostly beats of reggae music, once so beloved by the dead teenager.
After being ushered through the familiar setting of a family hallway littered with shoes, bags and the day-to-day debris of domestic living, we took our seats either side of a central stage. Invited into the private space of a family kitchen it felt as though we too were seated around the dining table, albeit as voyeuristic spectators instead of family members. The production cleverly manipulated the intimate venue of the New Theatre to create a space where audience and action became disconcertingly close. Indeed, seated on the front row, my feet touching the laminate of the kitchen floor, I was dangerously near to the raging spit, sweat and tears which splattered the stage during the climatic finale.
The tension constructed from such proximity served to create an interesting dynamic, not only between the audience and cast (it was difficult at times not to flinch as every emotion and awkward gesture took place a few feet in front of you), but also between other audience members. Often, when attending a performance it is quite easy, in the comfortable anonymity of darkness, to slip into a world of your own. However, in this production, the reactions of fellow audience members were easily discernable. So amidst the action on stage, I could not help but notice the horrified, fascinated and at times tearful faces of those seated opposite. This set up contributed brilliantly to the intimate believability of the on stage drama.
Far from being a barrel of laughs the play is, at times, a real harrowing watch. However, the character of pubescent, self-conscious Louise, superbly played by Ellie Cawthorne, does offer some light relief in her comically familiar portrayal of the typical, sexually curious and mouthy, yet vulnerable, young teenage girl. Indeed, the believability of the drama is essentially due to the emotive and relatable portrayal of the characters. Mawkish and pitifully awkward neighbour Dan, central to each scene of the performance, is played sensitively by Bentley and parents Marion (Christey Nethercott) and Graham (Henry Blanchard) provide a painfully realistic representation of an awful, emotionally distant marriage poisoned by the aftermath of their son’s death. So, if you would prefer to be entertained by a fluffy, warm and light-hearted spectacle then this is not for you. However, if you’re prepared to see some troublingly tense drama and high quality acting then head to the New Theatre this week.