21/05/15 - 'Cuddles' at the Royal Exchange

With so many brilliant productions running back-to-back in the main theatre of the Royal Exchange, it can be easy to forget the 90-seater studio that the venue also offers allowing smaller, often touring, performances an intimate theatre space within the beautiful building.  Despite being a regular visitor, I had ashamedly overlooked some of the performances on offer in favour of the larger shows.  However, the advertising for Arch 468's Cuddles very much intrigued me and so, with a midweek day off, I ventured into the studio for what turned out to be a truly unique piece of theatre.

A studio performance is always an interesting one, as the increased intimacy between the actors and their audience can bring a heightened sense of drama.  It is that intimacy that helps to create the impact of this piece, entirely set within one decaying room and with the audience surrounding three sides of the stage.  James Turner's set consists primarily of a single smeared bed against newspapered walls and floors and does much to heighten the feeling of unease even before the play has started.  Rather than being a cosy bedroom, it comes across more like a prison.

And so it is.  Thirteen-year-old Eve lives locked away in a dark attic of a castle, isolated from the world and only ever interacting with her older sister Tabby.  Eve is a vampire, a monster with a hunger than she struggles to contain.  She lives by a creed of strict rules to keep her under control and occasionally feeds on her human sister's blood.  Tabby is a princess, but one who does daily battle with businessmen and 'chuggers' ("they wear brightly coloured bibs and attack you in the street").  On paper, this may seem like a ridiculous premise but that's kind of the point.  From the offset, the play walks a fine line between fantasy and reality.  The blend of dark realism with supernatural and horror elements make you wonder throughout if maybe there might be more to the situation than meets the eye, and watching the events unfold is often an unsettling experience.  That isn't to say that the play is an entirely bleak affair; there are certainly moments of wit and humour as well as some very touching and tender sisterly scenes, as Tabby does her best to create a magical world for Eve within the confines of her room.

Image by Alex Beckett
Carla Langley's Eve manages to be naive and endearing, yet feral and threatening all in one go.  It's almost painful to watch her struggle to understand the changes her sister tries to make to their routine and to watch her starting to become the monster she's continually been told that she is.  Rendah Heywood's Tabby is a stark contrast to Langley's desperate and physical performance but the pair work very well together.  Tabby is desperate in her own way, struggling to control the situation she finds herself in as her real world begins to encroach a little too much on Eve's one-roomed existence.  Heywood shows great versatility, particularly in the scenes that take place outside the attic where she conducts entirely convincing one-way conversations with invisible characters who never materialise.  The two are a fantastic team and carry Joseph Wilde's beautifully written script in a killer eighty minute performance.  The dialogue is realistic, never overly wordy or pretentious, but somehow manages to come across as rather poetic and magical.

Part of the beauty of the play is that there are mixed moral lessons here.  There is no obvious hero or villain, and in fact both characters have the opportunity to be both.  What impressed me most was that even throughout the fantastical elements, the play still managed to show complex, flawed and damaged characters in very realistic ways.  It isn't an easy watch, certainly not for the faint-of-heart, but brings up a lot of very pertinent questions and is a fascinating take on some rather dark subject matter.

Cuddles is on at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester until Saturday 23rd May 2015, at which point it will be transferring to the Barbican Theatre in Plymouth for two performances.  In June, the show is heading to New York for an Off-Broadway run which has been crowd-funded and will be a great chance for Arch 468 as a company to show their work internationally.  If you get a chance to see this stunning production, I seriously recommend that you do!


  1. Sounds like a really interesting & dramatic show. The plot is complex & fantastical. I love going & supporting local theatres & businesses. :]

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    1. It was something so different and that was what was so wonderful about seeing it - local and indepedent theatre is always the most exciting and unique!

      Thank you so much for your comment :)

  2. It sounds like a really interesting and unique show, I really want to go and see something like this!

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    1. If you were to ever see it advertised in your area, don't hesitate to see it - such a clever piece of theatre and so different from most!

      Thank you so much for taking time to leave a comment :)