Rose Lewenstein’s new two-hander, Cougar, is neatly staged in a series of hotel rooms, delineating the relationship between John (an earthy Mike Noble) and Leila (a sultry, mincing Charlotte Randle). What begins as a random encounter after a conference within the hosting hotel, unfolds into a lengthy liaison as Leila (a high-
powered environmental expert) invites John (an out of work waiter) to accompany her around the world on a multitude of ‘very important’ business trips. John agrees, jumping at the chance to see and enjoy countless cities, funded by Leila, with whom he is enamoured. What’s not to love?
Of course, nothing is ever that simple, and the play begins to reveal a string of hypocrisies and oxymorons – Leila wants to ‘save the world’ from the dangers of greenhouse gas emissions, yet in doing so must fly across the globe, justifying her enormous salary and materialistic tendencies. She purchases unnecessary (and identical) outfits, complains about the aircon, drinks heavily from the minibar, indulges her primal urges by stuffing steak into her mouth (she professes to be a vegetarian) and even fulfils a life-long fantasy of being ‘bought’ as a prostitute. The irony is heavy-handed – wearily so, at times – and often renders events in the play more as incoherent acts of symbolism than real life scenarios. John, the slightly more likable of the pair, is no less damned – as he falls deeper in love with Leila, his age-old hatred of waste is replaced by a discernable detachment and cynicism. He becomes accustomed to each anonymous hotel room, forgetting which city he is in, smashing his camera (he can always buy another), and happily forgetting to finish one drink before starting on another. His disillusionment and disorientation is reflected in the structure of the play – the short snips of scenes throughout are often incoherent, with viewers playing catch up and (intentionally?) made to feel as though the rug is constantly being yanked from under their feet.
Rosanna Vize’s stage design is simple but effective, and as the hotel room becomes increasingly littered with discarded clothing, bottles, wires, food etc., the inescapable excesses generated by the pair (ergo of humankind) are plain to see. The use of two-way mirrors is clever – when looking out at the world, the pair only really seem to see themselves – again, a pointed statement of the underlying selfishness of mankind.
Perhaps the parallels between the bland hotel rooms and the many issues that Rose Lewenstein attempts to address (global warming, illicit love affairs, capitalism, abuse, grief, and political leadership, to name but a few) are both the gift and the curse of Cougar – it helps us see the faceless nature of the giant corporations ruining our planet, yet also renders each issue less impactful – just another issue that looks exactly the same as the one before (bleak, hopeless, confusing).
Whilst Cougar, therefore, offers a bold attempt to ridicule the state-of-the-humanity, and the devastating effect we (both collectively and as individuals) are having on the planet, it loses its hold on the audience through its incoherent structure, its duo of unlikely (and unlikable) lovers, and a lack of detail where it is most needed. Certainly enjoyable in parts, Cougar nevertheless leaves one feeling dissatisfied, frustrated by the powerful message it attempts to convey, and the confusing mechanisms it employs in order to say it.
Review by Amy Stow
We’re in a hotel. We’re always in a hotel. And each room is exactly the same as the last room, and the one before that, and the one before that…
Leila wants to inspire global change. John needs to get his shit together.
They have an arrangement. But managing an affair isn’t easy when the world around you is falling apart.
A new play about what – and who – we consume.
Just promise me you won’t
Fall in love.
Mike Noble – John
Charlotte Randle – Leila
Chelsea Walker – Director
Rosanna Vize – Designer
Jess Bernberg – Lighting Designer
Alexandra Faye Braithwaite – Sound Designer & Composer
Shelley Maxwell – Movement Director
Annelie Powell CDG – Casting Consultant
A NEW PLAY BY ROSE LEWENSTEIN
1 February 2019 — 2 March 2019