The title might suggest otherwise, but thankfully Spiders isn’t a stage version of 1980s film Arachnophobia. Although the play, performed at the Tristan Bates Theatre as part of the Camden Fringe, does refer to the eight-legged creepy crawlies, it’s a story about existing in a world where you don’t necessarily feel like you belong, friendship and privilege, not to mention David Attenborough documentaries.
Mia (Caroline Elms) and Harry (Samuel Parkinson) are two squatters living in an abandoned flat outside of Manchester. Mia is a young, emphatic, middle class girl who likes to be the best at everything she does, while Harry is a foul-mouthed yet charismatic working class lad with a passion for documentaries (David Attenborough not so much). The pair have only been living together a short time and despite coming from completely different backgrounds they’ve already formed a close bond, which is put to the test when they realise that they’ve both been keeping secrets from one another.
What’s most impressive about Spiders is that writer Billie Collins is herself a student, who wrote the first draft of the play when she was finishing her GCSEs. She’s succeeded in writing an insightful piece of theatre which is humorous in places, dark and a little close to the bone in others, and one that brings out impressive performances from its two actors.
Caroline Elms and Sam Parkinson have great chemistry as the friends who want to try and help one another but refuse help for themselves, who distract themselves from their problems with the television, radio or childhood “fortune-telling” games. Elms excels as Mia, a girl under pressure at home, who just wants to help her new-found friend, and the way she switches from playful to emotional in a matter of seconds with such ease is a testament to her ability. Parkinson puts in an equally strong, memorable performance as the protective and often paranoid Harry, who says things without thinking and sometimes goes too far (though insists he has the best intentions). There’s an underlying darkness to his character too, especially when his frustration rises to the surface.
The set brings to life a dingy squat complete with a graffited wall, dirty sofa bed and coffee table littered with empty cans and drinks bottles. Coupled with the intimate surroundings of the theatre, this all adds to the claustrophobic atmosphere the characters are experiencing with being cooped up in their flat. Yet some aspects of their shared abode are a little too convenient, including how it seems to have both electricity (a point raised questioned in the play itself) and an internet connection.
With the play lasting just an hour, there is a lot to cram in in a short space of time, which may explain the rushed endings to some of the scenes, the final one in particular. There also isn’t quite enough time to explore some of the plot points, including how Mia and Harry first met in person and came to be living together. The musical interludes and documentary snippets, which are interrupted by a loss of reception, do get a little too much at times, but that being said the production, directed by Rebecca Vaa, does enough to capture the audience’s attention. Spiders is an engaging and gripping story of a heart-warming friendship, perceptively written and impressively acted, and is definitely one to watch.
This review was originally written for Love London Love Culture. To read the original, click here.