"In her writing, Cowan explores with sensitivity, the relationship, unique to naturalist theatre, between painstaking, reductionist realism and the artistic"Johannes Hjorth

Come Back to Bed is an emotional piece of original student theatre, written, directed and produced by Isla Cowan. In it, Ben (Christian Hines) and Clara (Jessica Murdoch) have been casually sleeping together for about three weeks. It’s a destructive relationship where the physical and the emotional are hardly aligned. Both are mired in seemingly inescapable pasts, but don’t want to talk about it. Ben wants to move beyond the casual and get to know Clara. She, however, is constantly rearranging the bricks in the self-constructed wall between him and her emotions.

The play moves in a series of overlapping circles, large and small. Repetition of phrase structures and movements, a blend of diegetic and extra-diegetic music, and the theme of water that ebbs and flows throughout the drama give a powerful impression of the inescapability of this relationship. In her writing, Cowan explores with sensitivity, the relationship, unique to naturalist theatre, between painstaking, reductionist realism and the artistic. The links between dance and speech in the play are conveyed in a very aesthetic sense how naturalism, in its reductionism, can open up a door into the abstract and the decadent. Because, when something is as real as this play is, it inevitably becomes art.

"Hines and Murdoch both give convincing, unpretentious and sensitive performances"Johannes Hjorth

Movement Director Jonathan Ben-Shaul should be credited for the dance-like sections of the drama. Dance and speech merge as the play progresses and the complexity of Ben and Clara’s relationship becomes more apparent to the audience. Dance is used as a captivating and effective bridge between realism and the artistic and pinpoints how the emotional can become intertwined in the physical. Murdoch and Hines’s beautiful, fluid movements are reminiscent of the water around which the play flows.

Hines and Murdoch both give convincing, unpretentious and sensitive performances. Murdoch has the more difficult, mysterious character of the two to work with, and creates Clara as tormented - closed-off but physically intimate. She also captures a certain sense of the abstract. Is Clara a real person, or a character? The audience isn’t quite sure, which makes it all the more impossible to look away. Hines’s performance is in turn, innocent, witty and powerful. He conveys Ben’s puppy-like gaucheness, which occasionally materialises into an almost-painful strength. He, if anyone, pulls the emotional puppet strings in the play, drawing in and releasing the tension at different moments.

"The script is as fluid as the theme of water around which it is constructed"

Both characters gave un-self-conscious performances, given the play’s physical nature and their states of undress. Their reactions and interactions are on the one hand natural and understandable. Equally, though, they are also mingled, in the dance sections, with a sense of the theatrical that evokes the audience’s consideration of the fictionality of the play.

Use of props like the shirt reinforced the idea, already so well conveyed by the dialogue, of a relationship that can never be a perfect fit for both. Use of books as a prop and as a subject of conversation gave the audience an awareness of Cowan as writer and director behind the play. A simple set, with bed as central symbol, transformed the Fitzpatrick Theatre into a world that, for an hour, was wonderfully confining and inescapable.

"This is student writing at its most raw and most captivating"Johannes Hjorth

The script is as fluid as the theme of water around which it is constructed, except when various swear words sometimes jolt us out of the emotional intensity of the piece. They become a substitute for the emotions experienced by the characters - an easy way out. Perhaps they would have greater meaning if used slightly more sparsely.

Nevertheless, for the emotionally searching one hour of this one-room drama, the audience around me is silent, immersed in the personal politics of this intensely captivating relationship and, perhaps, drawing personal truths from it. There’s definitely a sense of the character’s emotional claustrophobia in this silence. Just as Ben and Clara don’t leave the room of their turbulent relationship, we as the audience are glued to our seats. It makes for a taut, tense play – one that sometimes lets go into moments of humour and familiarity, but that ultimately leaves us with an uncomfortable awareness of the gap between the physical and the emotional. 

The repetition by both characters of ‘Come back to bed’ evokes the ease of a physical relationship devoid of emotional quality. The bed is an escape mechanism. With it, Cowan makes a relatable comment on the difficult nature of relationships in our modern-day society, and what exactly ‘casual’ means. Come Back to Bed is also, though, a powerful exploration of naturalism and art.

The play will end, and you will be left with a sense of the inevitable. Also, perhaps, an inkling of hope. After all, it stops raining. This is student writing at its most raw and most captivating. An opportunity to see it should not be missed

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