Rose Lewenstein’s Cougar is an engaging philosophical play about the ennui of human existence and the repetitive exercise of joyless living. It reveals itself through the actions of its two characters, Leila (Charlotte Randle) an investment strategist with a huckster’s sales pitch – that of reducing global carbon emissions while maximising corporate profits – and John (Mike Noble), recently fired from his job as a hotel worker, who accompanies Leila on a world-wind tour of lavish business trips. John lolls around hotel swimming pools while Leila delivers keynote speeches to potential investors in an attempt to save the planet. It’s all chalked up as a business expense, so nobody pays except the financiers who employ Leila to bang on about a ‘get rich even quicker’ scheme they’ve cooked up under the title ‘Green Agenda’.
Granted, there is an indeterminate age difference between 35ish Leila and early 20s John, but their disconnected, repetitive conversations only serve to emphasise an emotional vacuum that persists no matter how many hotel rooms they trash, or how much alcohol they drink. And as for sex, it is doubtful that any carnal pleasure exists between them. So, why the title Cougar? One which implies a sex-hungry woman eager to seduce more juvenile prey. If there is a big cat seeking younger game in Lewenstein’s drama, it’s not the older woman but more the accoutrements of materialism, consumerism and excessive wealth that Leila’s character represents – weapons that remodel the world on capitalistic gain rather than concepts of justice and moral responsibility. In Cougar we hear the echoes of emptiness clang inside the human psyche and see the repetitive attempts to still the clamour with incessant noise, alcohol excess and expensive objects.
And here is where director Chelsea Walker has done a truly marvellous turn in maintaining the visual significance of repetition, not only in the sameness of each hotel room but in having Leila and John undress, then dress again – always wearing replicas of the same garments – and with having the actors repeat their physical movements and gestures throughout the play. Add to this a dystopian world that exists in each country they visit, a global terrain of red alerts, crime and poverty, and locals too dangerous to encounter outside the walls of the hotel compound. It is truly a cycle of revolving doors without an exit strategy, reminiscent of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and Sartre’s No Exit.
Except maybe there is a way out because young John realises that ‘the companies supporting the so-called Green Agenda are the very same companies fucking up the earth‘. While Leila defends her enormous salary and filthy carbon footprint by believing she is touting an investment product to save the planet. But can John afford to leave Leila and return to his squalid existence inside a miserable flat share with housemates who despise him?
You’ll have to see the play to find out.
Review by Loretta Monaco
We’re in a hotel. We’re always in a hotel. And each room is exactly the same as the last room, and the one before that, and the one before that…
Leila wants to inspire global change. John needs to get his shit together.
They have an arrangement. But managing an affair isn’t easy when the world around you is falling apart.
A new play about what – and who – we consume.
Just promise me you won’t
Fall in love.
Mike Noble – John
Charlotte Randle – Leila
Chelsea Walker – Director
Rosanna Vize – Designer
Jess Bernberg – Lighting Designer
Alexandra Faye Braithwaite – Sound Designer & Composer
Shelley Maxwell – Movement Director
Annelie Powell CDG – Casting Consultant
A NEW PLAY BY ROSE LEWENSTEIN
1 February 2019 — 2 March 2019