"Despite Collins’ reiteration that “Spiders is not a love story”, the play is about nothing but love."LAURA CAMERON

One is not introduced to the world of Mia and Harry in Rachel Kitts’ Spiders; rather, one stumbles into it. Washed over by warm, unobtrusive yellow light, framed by torn newspaper collaged on the wall and littered with incoherent pieces of cardboard boxes and worn furniture, the immediate and overwhelming ambience of familiarity and frustration appears to have always existed.

So do the joint protagonists of the story, their gazes meandering among the audience long before the official beginning (if there ever were such thing) of the play: one intensely engaged, the other decidedly vacant. There is an unmistakable irony in the situation in which the audience finds itself: expecting to watch and observe, one instantly becomes the object of observation.

“The comic and the grotesque lies in the very essence of the play’s triumph”

Seeing and being seen soon evolve into one chief strain of symbolism in the play. A television, its screen invisible to the audience, claims the attention of both characters and audience as the first scene begins. All is translated into recorded voices and flickering light, constantly disrupted and unsettled by background noise, channel-switching and Harry’s anxious impersonation of David Attenborough’s standard documentary voice. “I’m trying to watch this”, pleads Mia, one of the countless attempts at communication between the two which remain largely futile.

The television, like the enclosed, almost claustrophobic space of the room itself, functions as a refuge for both teenagers, its fitful yet reassuring influx of sound and fury submerging the larger tension and incomprehension which threatens to tear the room apart.

"Both actors give performances sufficient to match the formidable intensity of Kate Collins’ screenplay."Laura Cameron

Complementary to vision is the issue of invisibility, which is one of the few struggles shared by the middle-class runaway and the homeless amateur entomologist. Their need to remain unknown and unseen, even by those closest and dearest to them, is the primary force that ties the pair both to the room and to each other. The few occasions when the tie threatens to break, by either a physical exit or the intrusion of social media, constitute some of the play’s darkest and most harrowing moments.

Yet there is terror even in invisibility itself; the compelling use of blackouts, the longest of which lasts nearly twenty seconds, heightens the precariousness and fragility underlying the pair’s relationship. “Promise me you won’t go out again”, insists Harry repeatedly; this disturbing yet fascinating admixture of intimacy and menace, the comic and the grotesque lies in the very essence of the play’s triumph.

Needless to say, both actors give performances sufficient to match the formidable intensity of Kate Collins’ screenplay. Jessica Murdoch is Mia, with her infinite inventiveness and brittle middle-class guilt; the character’s simultaneous tenderness and fortitude is rendered with utmost verisimilitude and thoughtfulness. Her vigilant sense of justice and equality is spared the fate of becoming overly didactic and tedious precisely by her sensitivity and emotional weakness which is forcibly stripped bare on various occasions. The confronting voyeurism proves a trial to the audience’s conscience, flirting with the uppermost limit of knowing what one ought not know.

“Jessica Murdoch is Mia, with her infinite inventiveness and brittle middle-class guilt”

Alistair Henfrey, as the rootless, aimless and reckless “good person”, intoxicates and electrifies. His initially apathetic gaze and barren sarcasm undergoes a sporadic and volatile metamorphosis in the course of the play. Henfrey’s impeccable enactment of a young man learning to think, to love and to live for the first time is, and will be one of the most beautiful transformations to be seen on the Cambridge stage. “Convincing” would not be quite the right word: instead of adhering to the audience’s views as to how one should speak or act, he revolutionises it.

Despite Collins’ reiteration that “Spiders is not a love story”, the play is about nothing but love. Not love in its narrow, romantic sense as we playgoers too often take for granted; but love in its most sweeping, most generous form possible, between strangers, between siblings, even between humans and insects. After all, it is the one thing that does, as Mia would have it, “live forever”

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