I’m still in two minds as to whether having all of the action in Hedgehogs & Porcupines in one front room is a help or a hindrance. It’s a help in that the scene changes are fairly smooth, and with no change of place, this allows the audience’s minds to concentrate instead on the plot. But it’s also a hindrance: Hedgehog (Rebecca Bailey) in particular walks in and out of side doors stage left with such regularity that it is difficult not to wonder what goes on in the other rooms of this flat. Porcupine (David Shields) moves in with her, and while opposites attract, there’s also cause for differences of opinion and full-blown bickering. This may not make for the healthiest of home lives, but it does make for good theatre.
There’s more than a whiff of Jean-Paul Sartre’s Huis Clos play (translated: No Way Out), famed for its depiction of Hell not so much being a fiery furnace with pitchforks and horns but being an enclosed space for eternity with others whose personalities are vastly different to one’s own, such that being there becomes intolerable, but by the rules of the afterlife, there’s no escape. But as this production deals with living beings, it’s quite possible for the parting of the ways to take place.
As it is referenced extensively in the play, please forgive this digression into a ‘dilemma’ attributed to Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), who asserted that human relationships – at society level (though the production puts the dilemma into a personal level context) – are like hedgehogs or porcupines, who desire to move closer to one another for warmth (in more ways than one) and companionship, but they cannot get ‘too’ close, because their spines would prick one another and cause pain. Human ‘spines’ are, from what I can gather from the play’s dialogue, habits and personality traits. This, then, is why friendships and relationships that start off being altogether wonderful can later fall apart.
Lack of communication – for whatever reason – proves to be a recurring theme, with both parties not being as open as they could be. Give and take, arguments and counter-arguments: much of the proceedings are commonly recognised as being part and parcel of being coupled up. But with as much familiarity as there is here – Hedgehog and Porcupine could well be any young couple with frantically busy lives in the modern world – the play doesn’t, beyond an exploration of Schopenhauer’s ‘porcupine problem’, say anything that hasn’t been said before.
That it is mentioned at all falls down to Hedgehog’s postgraduate university studies. The production doesn’t get bogged down in academic theories, keeping the focus on the mornings and the evenings at home – that is, when both characters are present, and almost always going through a frantic morning routine in which they are running late for work, or otherwise frazzled from the working day at night. “The price of happiness is being unbearable in the presence of those who aren’t,” muses Porcupine. Quite.
Some credit must go to the performers, portraying thoroughly dislikeable characters in a way that manages to maintain interest throughout. When the musical Avenue Q used to play in the West End, there was a lyric that went, “There’s a fine, fine line / Between love and a waste of time”. Here, Hedgehog’s rather sarcastic humour doesn’t always go down well with her partner, while Porcupine’s apparent ability to put his foot in it in social situations is further cause for a frank exchange of views. A pleasant yet poignant production, short and (bitter) sweet.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Blueleaf Theatre presents Hedgehogs & Porcupines, the professional debut of playwright James P Mannion. Based on Schopenhauer’s Paradox, the Hedgehog (or Porcupine) Dilemma, Hedgehogs & Porcupines examines the fine line in a relationship between intimacy and irritation, pleasure and pain, love and hate.
Hedgehog and Porcupine have been together for longer than they can remember. Well, longer than Porcupine can remember. Hedgehog knows exactly how long it’s been. For three years they’ve been stabbing each other repeatedly with their sharp quills, but despite this agony, the ‘warmth’ their relationship provides means neither has managed to break free. That is, until a manic twenty-four-hour cycle of argument and recriminations forces both to ask themselves the ultimate question: is this really worth it?
Written by James P Mannion. Directed by Marcus Marsh. Produced by Blueleaf Theatre Company in association with Marzipan Productions. Designed by Alex Babec. Starring David Shields and Rebecca Bailey.
The Old Red Lion Theatre
Monday 1st October – 6th October 2018