Hedgehogs & Porcupines
Old Red Lion Theatre
Reviewed – 2nd October 2018
“The dialogue is nimble, often hilarious, and the characters are full of sympathy even at their most bitter”
In cold weather hedgehogs huddle together for warmth, but find that in doing so, they invariably pierce each other with their spines. This is the premise of Arthur Schopenhauer’s “Hedgehog’s Dilemma”, his bleak, allegorical musing on the nature of human intimacy, and, if you can believe such a thing, it is the subject of a new light-hearted take on modern romance by Blueleaf Theatre.
James P. Mannion’s sprightly piece revolves around a couple in a five-year relationship, drawn together by a shared intelligence and sharp senses of humour, driven apart by their many differences, the barbs with which they end up harming one another. Over a venomous 24-hour period, the failure of each to live up to the standards of the other rips the two apart.
Mannion skilfully captures the sense of opposition, the mysterious way in which two people might at the same time attract and repel. The dialogue is nimble, often hilarious, and the characters are full of sympathy even at their most bitter. He wastes no time in cutting to the action; after a brief prologue in which we witness the relationship blossoming for the first time, we quickly fast forward to its breakdown. Unfortunately, this sharp change in mood threatens to unsaddle the piece; from this point forth the register is one of constant conflict, making the opening feel arbitrary and at times leaving the play rather paceless. Moreover, fragments of Schopenhauer’s dilemma are pushed explicitly – and often rather awkwardly – into the narrative as she is a doctoral student for whom the philosopher is the subject of a thesis. The allegory is explicitly linked by the characters to the situation they find themselves in, and when this does happen, Mannion’s otherwise organic writing begins to feel didactic.
The charming performances of the leads quickly clear up such worries, however. Rebecca Bailey and David Shields find a great deal of humour in their characters, but crucially they know when to shift gear, exposing the pain beneath. Their warmth endears them to us, even as they drive each other away. Set entirely in the front room of their flat, the intimate, book-strewn space mirrors the mix of comfort and claustrophobia that exists between the pair.
Philosophy and drama have had a long a varied rapport themselves, as have philosophy and comedy. Hedgehogs & Porcupines plays with both relationships, and though at times it might lack bite, its enduring good nature finds much insight and enjoyment.
Reviewed by Harry True
Hedgehogs & Porcupines
Old Red Lion Theatre until 6th October
Previously reviewed at the venue: