Review: Hedgehogs & Porcupines
Image: Old Red Lion Theatre
Hedgehog and Porcupine have been together for longer than they can remember.
Well, longer than Porcupine can remember.
Hedgehog knows exactly how long it's been.
For five years they've been stabbing each other repeatedly with their sharp quills, but despite this agony, the 'warmth' their relationship provides means neither has managed to break free.
That is, until a manic twenty-four-hour cycle of argument and recriminations forces both to ask themselves the ultimate question: is this really worth it?
Drawing from Schopenhauer's famous paradox, the Porcupine (or Hedgehog) Dilemma, Hedgehogs & Porcupines examines the fine line between intimacy and irritation, pleasure and pain, love and hate.
After a successful work in progress performance at The Stockwell Playhouse One Act Festival, Hedgehogs & Porcupines, written by James P Mannion, comes to The Old Red Lion for a limited run, presented by Blueleaf Theatre in association with Marzipan Productions.
After Blueleaf Theatre's debut show That Moment received critical acclaim and multiple five star reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Artistic Director Marcus Marsh returns to direct James P Mannion's funny, yet delicate script.
Starring as the characters Hedgehog and Porcupine will be Rebecca Bailey (No Finer Life UK Tour) and David Shields (Bad Education Movie, The Crown).
The central point of discussion in this play is that intimacy between humans is a fraught business because the participants can't help but needle each other during the interactions between them.
In the views of Arthur Schopenhauer and Sigmund Freud, human beings, in spite of the best of intentions and the desire to get on with one another, can't do so without inflicting some emotional harm on each other.
The idea is described in the 'hedgehog's dilemma' - sometimes called 'the porcupine's dilemma' where those creatures would like to huddle together for warmth but can't do so without hurting each other with their spines and quills.
Now you may be able to see a glimmer of light dawning in terms of the title of this short, but what turns out to be a highly-focused and tight two-hander.
In case anyone could still be in any doubt about the point of the play, we find the characters here called 'Porcupine' and 'Hedgehog'.
And, to remove any last vestige of potential doubt, the characters wear costumes (lovingly created by Alex Babec) that do indeed bear some animalistic detailing as the photo below clearly shows.
David Shields as Porcupine (left) and Rebecca Bailey as Hedgehog
The immediate question that all of this throws-up is whether the title, character names and attire make the whole concept rather too obvious.
For the most part, I prefer to decipher for myself just what a play is about from what the characters say and do.
I suspect some people may find this play's approach a touch too obvious.
In fact, though, it turns out to feel essentially liberating, allowing us to discard any decoding of the play's overall intentions, leaving us to focus on just what is happening between the characters and how what they do fits the central metaphor.
And that does feel appealingly fresh, and also proves thought-provoking as well as enjoyable too.
James P Mannion's succinct and well-written script is neatly sprinkled with humour as the needling between the two characters gets under way.
Essentially, we witness the interactions between a pairing of two intelligent and modern young people who have very different personal qualities.
The characters are ably described here in two fine and absorbing performances that feel entirely authentic and natural.
David Shields' Porcupine is a humorous and amenable but fairly casual male who is not particularly tidy, nor one for remembering things like dinner engagements.
Rebecca Bailey's Hedgehog, a post-graduate research student, is more practical, more organised, more thoughtful about her friends.
The first time we see their personalities clash is when Porcupine gets home late and exhausted from work and has forgotten a special dinner they are going to and a confrontation ensues.
During other scenes, we find them trying to allocate blame for the altercations between them - at one point Porcupine says Hedgehog is an "uptight, controlling, humourless, megalomaniac".
No mincing words there!
Marcus Marsh's pacy and astute direction allows the characters plenty of room to breathe, but also keeps enough of a reign on proceedings to keep their qualities and personalities well-differentiated, without being overly obvious or feeling contrived.
In spite of the patent clarity embodied in the title, costumes and character names, the play does leave us with some work to do and things to consider.
Primarily, we're left to wonder how we survive relationships if in-built personality differences make conflict inevitable and, possibly, intolerable.
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