Moving bedrooms can be a tiring process, especially for the cast of New Theatre’s production of Bed as they debut at the Lakeside Theatre. Taking our seats, the excited hum from the audience was not enough to wake the seven individuals lying in the bed in front of us. Never fear though! They have a very unique alarm clock to make them all roll over out of their slumber. Cosy in their pain and in a bed that stretches across most of the stage the characters take us on a journey into their past.
Like their patchwork quilt, each character’s story stitches the plot together and brings something different to the bed through a series of monologues interspersed with comical interactions. Avoiding “making them into caricatures of stereotypical old people”, Director James McAndrew, along with Producer Nick Stevenson, is successful in portraying each character in a way that the audience is able to relate to. With no indication of how these characters came to share one bed, unsure if it even exists in our reality, this quirky ensemble relive their memories with each other and with the audience. It is the surreal style of the performance that takes the audience back to significant moments in a character’s timeline, transforming the bed into another setting all together like a car, a ship or even a stage.
As well as the set, the mood also transforms with each monologue; a patriotic speech from Charles (James Townend), a tale of lonely bitterness by Spinster (Flo Hapgood) and a talent show spectacular by Bosom Lady (Suzie Roope). In each of these episodes the characters become young again. The characters are surrounded by a whirlwind of furniture which is used in creative ways throughout. Even the usual nuisance of getting up in the middle of the night to get a glass of water is transformed into an adventure, the ups and down of such a quest experienced by an endearingly cute couple, grown old together (Amy Brough-Aiken and Jono Lake).
Dreams and nightmares aside, it is sleep deprivation that is a form of torture and in this performance it comes in the form of the eerie Sermon Head (Nick Jeffrey) constantly taunting the characters. In particular, it is the Captain’s (Conrad Cohan) relationship with this floating head that is the most entertaining and brings in an element of slapstick comedy. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for Marjorie (Ellie Cawthorne) haunted by the head and her past; most of the audience are welling up by the end of her account. While unsettling, this supernatural head’s attempt to prevent the others from sleeping strangely provokes sympathy from the audience, all of whom are familiar with the sensation of insomnia.
In stark contrast to the monologues throughout the performance, some of the most poignant moments in the play occur when no words are spoken. A combination of dim lighting and a recurring lullaby, the dreamy music composed by Chris Walters subtly underlies the sadness of the piece during these moments of reflection while also aiding smooth transitions between scenes.
After the performance, commenting on a successful first venture, New Theatre President Meg Salter was pleased to report “it went really well and the partnership has really benefited both theatres” describing the process as a “fantastic opportunity”.
Far from being put to bed, this new collaboration will hopefully continue with plans being put forward to “start doing at least one show a year with Lakeside, using actors from the New Theatre and being given access to Lakeside’s marketing and backstage crew [who are] allowing us to shadow them”.
Seven in the bed, accompanied by a head and a clever creative team, the New Theatre’s amateur production made an impressive debut in a professional venue and showcased a high level of talent in its first outing at the Lakeside Theatre.