It’s a long winter of dark mornings, dark evenings and desperate loneliness. Each evening flatmates Justine and Michael end up in their characterless white living room, drinking to forget. Justine plays an archetypal young professional; working hard, playing hard and hung up on an aging ex-hippie boss who both infuriates and fascinates her. She’s bored, stressed, confused and anonymous.
Michael acts as her sounding board; an agoraphobic who spends his days in the flat, he listens patiently to Justine as she violently extrapolates about her problems. In his free time, Michael pays the bills by taking calls as a woman on a sex chat line, pandering to the needs of lonely characters such as Saddo, an old Scottish man wanting to enact sadistic fantasies about his daughter.
This is an unrelenting 80 minutes from writer Lucinda Coxon, calculated to make the audience feel uncomfortable. It is without mercy that she systematically strips bare the dirty corners that the human psyche crawls into, exposing us as a pathetic and confused race.
What starts out as a bouncy comedy accelerates without break into a dark and disturbing excavation of psychology. Justine loses her bright grip on work life and is forced to face the void beyond it ,and Michael fails to keep the distance he needs from the game he and Saddo play in their conversations. Spiraling towards an end with no return, this play portrays the bleaker side of navigation in the world of 21st century careers and relationships.
Following a successful run at Bath’s Theatre Royal, Herding Cats hits London in time to provide some grim laughter over the festive period. Anthony Banks does a stellar job in bringing Coxon’s words to life, keeping the action as brutal and comfortless as the sentiment. The cast carry the uncomfortable subject matter with a stark lack of shame, leaving no room for either characters or audience to hide.