Review: Don’t Smoke in Bed, VAULT Festival

Harry McDonald’s Don’t Smoke in Bed is a remarkably tense experience at VAULT Festival

“He didn’t think it was a big deal”

There’s something claustrophobic about Don’t Smoke in Bed that makes it a significantly different theatrical experience to anything else I’ve seen at the 2023 VAULT Festival thus far. An exploration of the psychological aftermath of sexual violence and the destructive behaviours it can foment, it’s a play that is, at times, brutal in its unflinching look at trauma. 

When a casual Grindr hookup turns bad for Jack, all he wants to do when he gets home is crack open a bottle of white wine, curl up with best pal and flatmate Molly and forget it ever happened. But as she tends to his bloodstains and bruises and tries to get him to open up over the coming days, it becomes clear that the rippling effects of his assault have taken full hold.

Jacob Seelochan brings a quiet but steely conviction to the increasingly desolate Jack and Diya Vencatasawmy makes a startling theatrical debut as Molly, the pair sharing a palpable chemistry through bitching and banter. And as McDonald explores how it can be hardest to share the most personal agonies with those closest to us, ruptures emerge in their friendship, pained betrayal writ large on both their face.   

Director Joseph Winer has maximised the intimacy of the Pit by reconfiguring it into the round, somehow drawing us even closer into this world. And as Jack’s coping strategies take larger, more visceral form, Winer amps up the oppressiveness of the atmosphere to leave us all in the shadow of this trauma. There’s some light at the end of the tunnel but as McDonald questions Dionne Warwick’s affirmations about what friends are for, there’s much here that lingers in the mind.

Running time: 60 minutes
Don’t Smoke in Bed is booking at VAULT Festival until 5th February

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