“What keeps you awake at night?” demands the sign blazoned across the back of the set. Under normal circumstances, the usual: foxes, whether series three of Downton Abbey will be any good, the finite and irreversibly shortening nature of existence. But after seeing Bed we’ll be kept awake by the memory of one giant bed with seven people in it, the enormity of the bed making the humans seem diminutive even though they’re only touching distance away, like tiny dolls waiting for the littlest to ask everyone to roll over.
The optical illusion gets even freakier with the addition of a disembodied head screeching lyrical laments about not being able to sleep. Sleep. This is all about sleep. The lack of it, the memories conjured when you’re trying to drift off, the sliding together of dreams and reality. This revival of Jim Cartwright’s 1989 play (Cartwright also wrote The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice, if you’re wondering) features seven elderly people and their hopes, dreams, lives and the shouty demon that watches over them all. It’s surreal and the language is more poetry than dialogue, words you feel in your mouth before they hit your brain.
Britishness, and what that means, runs through many of the vignettes, and the red, white and blue appears on stage many times – though without managing to connect emotionally. Starting the play with news coverage of last year’s riots is perhaps an attempt to give Bed some contemporary resonance (is it implying the riots, and rioters, were un-British?) yet the revelation of one character’s bigotry is underused. Better to focus on the bittersweet remembrance of lives and eras gone than trying to form some kind of coherent message out of literary non-narrative.
The Old Bomb Theatre Company presents Bed at the Brockley Jack, 410 Brockley Road, SE4 2DH, until 29 September. Tickets £13 / £10. For more information see the Brockley Jack website. We saw this show on a press ticket.