Wednesday 6 February 2019

Cougar @ The Orange Tree Theatre

Cougar @ The Orange Tree Theatre

The title of this new play at The Orange Tree theatre, from Rose Lewenstein, implies a piece about a relationship with an older woman. Illicit, dangerous, predatory. Cougar is all of these things. It’s intense and erotic. But more so, it’s actually a play about consumption and climate change. Weirdly, that mix works.

It’s the relationship that initially hooks us though. This is two people – the twentysomething John (Mike Noble) and the older Leila (Charlotte Randle) – with animalistic passions caged up in luxury hotel rooms. Rosanna Vize’s design is a Perspex box and we are the voyeurs. Lewenstein has structured the play as a series of extremely short scenes, some just a matter of seconds, that don’t play out chronologically. It gives Cougar a timeless quality that simultaneously suggests their passion for one another and their entrapment in this hotel room relationship.

There are hints and snapshots of violence, fantasy and role-play. Leila wishes to be bought; John finds her irresistible. There’s a reversal in perceived (outdated) gender roles: Leila, financially secure, holds all the power; John is emasculated, her naive prey. They are such polar opposites that you know it won’t work out between them. Yet while John falls for her, Leila's own intentions remain teasingly ambiguous.

Lewenstein’s intentions, though, are more acute. This isn’t just a play about two humans consuming each other in a disturbing and provocative affair. It’s about the hypocrisy of the modern world, the way we consume the planet and its resources. Leila works in climate change, making speeches to corporations in hotel conference rooms. She speaks of NGOs and economics and saving the planet. Yet, by her own admission, she earns a “disgusting” amount of money. Over the course of the play, both she and John consume food like beasts, drink alcohol like water, and change into identical clothes fresh from cellophane wrappers. John tries to make his own small gestures – giving money to a beggar for instance – but he is depressingly representative of the youth led astray by an older generation.

Cougar is expertly paced, its quick scenes slowly drawing us into the nuances of the script. Snappy dialogue reflects the age difference of the characters, and both Noble and Randle deftly switch between contrasting emotions in two bold performances.

By the play’s conclusion, the couple’s carbon footprint is laid bare in their hotel room, littered with the detritus of their affair, their passion burnt out. It’s an apocalyptic end to the play, the world, and their relationship.


Watch: Cougar runs at the Orange Tree Theatre until 2nd March.

Cougar @ The Orange Tree Theatre
Photo: The Other Richard