Cougar at Orange Tree Theatre
Given the paralysing enormity of the threat, it’s honestly surprising that climate change hasn’t dominated the last few theatrical seasons. The Orange Tree attempts to redress the imbalance somewhat with Rose Lewenstein’s frequently clever, but infuriatingly scattershot, Cougar.
John (Mike Noble, increasingly frenzied) and Layla (Charlotte Randle, detached) meet in a hotel room. And another. And another. So many that they are impossible to tell apart, that the cities start to blur into one. She’s an expert in environmental “corporate accountability”, taking her Green Agenda from country to country in order to make the world a better place. And him? He’s her kept man, another piece of expensive luggage for her to haul about on her many transatlantic flights.
Through a series of elliptical, non-linear scenes – some of which are filled out as the play goes on, others left opaque – Lewenstein uses this rules-based relationship to probe not only the inter-personal power dynamics of class and gender, but the poisonous hypocrisies that fuel the global economic approach to potential environmental salvation.
It is, in other words, a lot, and the writer is better at hitting some targets than others. The relationship itself is never that convincing (or, really, interesting), weakening the moments when that becomes the crux of the drama, and lessening the impact of those sections that linger on the parallels between how we consume each other and our approach to the Earth and its resources. Fleeting references to some kind of sexual assault, and a strange detour relating to sex work, only add to the sense that Lewenstein is trying too hard for maximum topicality.
When it focuses its attentions on the floods and heatwaves, droughts and disasters that are in our imminent future, and the small and large-scale behaviours behind this collapse, Cougar feels far more confident (if not particularly subtle).
One sequence sees Layla try and find her outfit, ignoring the clothes and shoes that lay strewn on the floor to pluck some identical, plastic-wrapped replacements from the drawer. This is followed by a similar scene where Layla splurges on a whole new wardrobe for John, one that is exactly the same as what he is wearing. Nothing hugely original, but a nicely staged, neat look at how easily penetrable our hard-moral lines – John constantly professes his hatred of waste as he chugs from the minibar, Layla claims she is trying to save the world as she jets around it – end up becoming.
Photos: The Other Richard
Cougar is at Orange Tree Theatre from 1st February until 2nd March 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for Cougar here: