Jafar Iqbal is at The Other Room theatre in Cardiff to review a highly anticipated performance of Mydidae by OtherLife Theatre.
OtherLife Theatre follows in the footsteps of other emerging companies to begin at The Other Room. Notably, Neontopia and difficult: stage can thank the Cardiff venue for its part in their development and, on the evidence of their debut outing, OtherLife can add itself to that list. This fledgling team, made up of four alumni from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, hasn’t just appeared on the scene. They’ve laid a marker that even they might struggle to surpass. It might sound like hyperbole but, in truth, Mydidae is a superbly produced piece of theatre. There isn’t an aspect of this powerful piece that doesn’t impress, remarkable for a company so young.
Choosing Jack Thorne’s play will have made that process much easier. Thorne’s intense two-hander fits into the traditional TOR canon, and wouldn’t have been out of place in their recently-finished Lovesick season. Mydidae explores the dynamics of a relationship that has become stationary. It is no longer a happy relationship, but neither is it at the brink of collapse. Our protagonists simply plod along, trying to find some solace in their stagnancy. A moment of unexpected brutality disturbs proceedings, but it would be foolhardy to think that Mydidae is provocative or gratuitous – rather, it’s deceptively tender. Thorne’s script suggests that – for better or for worse – traumatic moments strengthen relationships in unexpected ways.
It’s a relationship very well portrayed by Isabella Marshall and Matthew Raymond. These are by no means easy characters to play, both on a physical and psychological level, but Marshall and Raymond tackle them with aplomb. Simon Reeves’ direction is equally courageous – he pushes his cast into increasingly darker places without sacrificing that tenderness which permeates through. A lot of that is down to the actors, who demonstrate a romantic chemistry that feels entirely organic. The quietness in Marshall’s performance is deeply unsettling at times, but she’s also our emotional crutch for most of the running time. Raymond, meanwhile, has the unenviable (but very successfully completed task) of winning the audience over as a man unable to express himself as he’d like to. Both characters do a one-eighty over the course of the play, a testament to the strength of Thorne’s writing.
In keeping with the standards of The Other Room, Ceci Calf’s set design is exceptional. The small space is transformed into a tiled bathroom, complete with bathtub, towel racks and used toothbrushes. While such hyper-real design was not strictly necessary, there’s something to admire about the attention to detail given by Reeves. Lighting and sound design is beautifully handled by Will Gregory, nicely capturing the ambience of the piece with blues and greys. The choice of music littered through the play is perhaps too cliché, but there’s no denying that it fits.
If Mydidae is anything to go by, OtherLife has a bright future ahead of them. What they are going to have to compete with now is their own weight of expectation. The company deserves to savour in this success but, much like the couple at the heart of this play, the pressing question is, where do we go from here?
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Jafar Iqbal is a regular contributor to Wales Arts Review.