Review: Bedlam at CLF Art Cafe

Written by Tom Hodson (who also directs), Matt Forey, Lucy Hilton-Jones, Christopher Roscoe Brown and Peter Stone (who all star), Bedlam is a cleverly written and performed drama about a couple in crisis. As they attempt to resolve their differences, the production plays with its audience’s sympathies and assumptions, leaving us wondering who’s to blame and if there’s even a relationship left to save.

Ellie (Lucy Hilton-Jones) thinks her boyfriend George (Matt Forey) has cheated on her, but he swears that he hasn’t. They both want the truth to come out, so in desperation they’ve agreed to take part in a kind of therapy, the exact details of which are somewhat unclear. They’ve both been assigned a member of staff (Peter Stone and Christopher Roscoe Brown, respectively), whose job is to listen to and support each of them as they talk things out and get to the bottom of what’s gone wrong in their relationship. What they’re not allowed to do is speak to each other – at least not yet.

While this is going on, the audience is also trying to piece together the real story. In the isolation of their own rooms, with the encouragement of an unconditionally supportive ally, both Ellie and George seem to be in the right – which instantly puts whoever we’re not currently listening to in the wrong. But life is rarely that simple, and flashbacks charting the couple’s relationship from day one bring shades of grey into a picture that at first seems starkly black and white. Ellie may be paranoid, but perhaps her past experiences mean she has more than a little justification. Equally, George may not have been completely honest about everything, but maybe he’s had a legitimate reason for not sharing the whole truth.

Tom Hodson directs a very cohesive production, in which every element contributes to an increasingly uncomfortable feeling of division. The set, designed by Ed Saunders, is a mirror image: two identical rooms, with identical sofas, in which Ellie and George are each lit by harsh white spotlights. The only time we see them together is during the flashbacks, which take place at the front of the stage, where the lighting is much softer and the furnishings far less austere. Here we find them flirting awkwardly on their first encounter, dancing and drinking, fighting and making up… In short, they’re a normal, perfectly imperfect couple – a million miles away from the two unhappy individuals sitting on those sofas – who probably would have done better to stay home and work things out on their own.

But of course it’s very easy to say that with the benefit of hindsight. In the moment, Bedlam carries us along, casually encouraging us to switch allegiance with each new revelation, and it’s impressive – and depressing – to realise, afterwards, just how easily it does this. An original, skilfully put together production, Bedlam turns the spotlight neatly back on to its audience to ask some interesting and uncomfortable questions about trust, relationships and human nature.

Bedlam is at CLF Art Cafe until 16th November.

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