Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Theatre review: Even Stillness Breathes Softly Against a Brick Wall

2013 is turning out to be a year when size matters, or at least length does: If it's not a super-long running time it's a mouthful of a title, like Brad Birch's two-hander Even Stillness Breathes Softly Against a Brick Wall, now playing Upstairs at Soho Theatre. A nameless couple in their late twenties (Joe Dempsie and Lara Rossi) are, by all the usual criteria, successful: A good-looking pair very much in love, they share a nice flat paid for by decent jobs. But it's these jobs that cause the first cracks: Their 9-5 lives are dull, sometimes degrading and built around trying to please bosses they hate, leaving them with little time together at the end of the day, which they spend in front of the TV. Worse, it's becoming apparent that these soul-sapping jobs aren't even enough to pay all the bills.

Birch's play is a picture of a couple having a simultaneous breakdown, triggered by the death of one of the man's colleagues, and the redundancy of his father putting extra financial pressure on them. With daily news from war zones showing them where their daily worries fit in the grand scheme of things, they begin to disconnect from society entirely.

I've seen a couple of very negative reactions to Even Stillness Breathes Softly Against a Brick Wall, and I'm not entirely sure where they're coming from. I will say it's not a remotely comfortable play to watch, at least not for me. There's a lot that hits home about the idea of being crushed by both the problems of daily life and their ultimate meaninglessness, and the temptation to just give up that can become overwhelming. Although there's sometimes flashes of humour it remains predominantly a bleak view of life from the outset.

And Birch's poetic writing style in interesting but occasionally problematic - although the two characters interact physically a lot they rarely speak directly to each other, with most of the play's speech being essentially narrated from their points of view. At times the conceit drags a bit but for the most part it's a powerful and interesting way into the characters' minds.

And Nadia Latif's production has lucked out in its stars as well: Joe Dempsie and Lara Rossi are both charismatic and attractive (seriously, Dempsie's body is insane,) but also share a hint of danger that lends a touch of plausibility to the idea that they're only a few steps away from turning feral. I almost feared for Rossi's safety at one point as she careered around what was a pretty messy set by them (I don't envy stage management having to reset after every performance,) the actors running barefoot on a floor covered in broken crockery, food and slippery paper. Even Stillness Breathes Softly Against a Brick Wall is imperfect but has moments that are powerful and disturbing.

Even Stillness Breathes Softly Against a Brick Wall by Brad Birch is booking until the 14th of June at Soho Theatre Upstairs.

Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes straight through.

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