When questioning the legitimacy of an improbable story, we are often told, ‘There’s no smoke without fire.’ In Plane Paper Theatre’s production of Aurin Squire’s ‘Don’t Smoke In Bed’, as happily married fantasy and brutal reality collide, there is smoke and fire aplenty. Under Andy Twyman’s direction, Clare Latham and Greg Lockett are utterly compelling as Sheryl and Richard, the married couple documenting their life to a New York Times journalist via a bedroom webcam. Their transformation from loved up parents-to-be into a disenchanted pairing is continuously recorded by the flickering light of two onstage screens, documenting the infidelity and conflicts of class, race and culture that rupture their ‘interracial idyll’.
The actors move seamlessly between deeply personal monologues to funny and often moving conversations, exposing the challenges of a culture clashing marriage. Squire’s writing dismantles societal attitudes to such SII unions (‘Serious Interracial Intellectuals’) and deliberately destabilises our natural assumptions. Cheryl pointedly dismisses the ‘fable of the black dick’, and Richard speaks of his Jamaican parent’s concern that Sheryl is inferior ‘white trash’. These racial politics form the bedrock of ‘Don’t Smoke In Bed’, functioning as the couples’ USP, yet ultimately causing their demise as the pair struggle to reconcile the outdated attitudes of their parents with the modern dream of a successful and accepted interracial union.
The chemistry between Latham and Lockett is undeniable, and the audience becomes increasingly invested in their marriage, despite the exposure of their failings. Emily May Sions’ clever design sets the marital bed as the focal point of the stage, lending an immediate intimacy to the dialogue. However, by the second act the bed functions as an uncomfortable reminder of the earlier happiness of the marriage, creating a physical chasm between the pair as they sit, incapable of conversing yet individually seeking solace in the webcam screens. We cannot help but acknowledge its presence, and it is only strengthened by the characters’ determination to avoid the damning connotations that this empty bed holds.
There are multiple reasons to go and see ‘Don’t Smoke In Bed’, and the show is perfectly summed up in Richard’s statement that ‘All love is a political statement’. This is an idea expertly explored and challenged by Squire’s work, with true moments of heartbreak and catharsis. A personal highlight of the show for me was the re-enactment by Richard and Sheryl of how they first met; two intellectuals exchanging quickfire poetic banter at an Academic meet and greet. I was reintroduced to rhymes I hadn’t heard since childhood, Squire masterfully presenting Victorian children’s rhymes as expert flirtation technique, and I now know, that if I’m ever hailed in a smoky bar by the words, ‘Pocket full of rye’, I’m onto an absolute winner. Book your tickets before this gem is gone.
Catch ‘Don’t Smoke in Bed’ at the Finborough Theatre, Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays, 6, 7, 8, 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 22 March 2016