EVEN STILLNESS BREATHES SOFTLY AGAINST A BRICK WALL
by Brad Birch.
Soho Theatre Upstairs 21 Dean Street W1D 3NE To 14 June 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.15pm Mat Sat 3.30pm.
Runs 1hr 30min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7478 0100.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 31 May.
Up-to-date picture of urban anomie loses its way but is brought vividly to life.
Several years ago I met an elderly woman standing in an ordinary suburban street. She asked if I could help her home, only a couple of streets away. She had not been out for a long time after an illness, and suddenly found herself scared to move any further.
The unnamed characters in Brad Birch’s new play are far younger, in their late twenties. Yet as they go through routines, waking-up, commuting, interacting superficially with colleagues, do their jobs, go home, they suddenly freeze, realising their deadening lifestyle.
There have been many plays in which a ‘Him’ and ‘Her’ wake-up to the deadliness of normal life, but Birch views the scenario from a 2013 perspective. Redundancy strikes Him’s father, followed by a job “picking litter in a park”. Lending him money brings debt, and a first quarrel.
Till this point the two have had some physical contact but have spoken in monologues; eating together has involved sharing a Tesco packaged sandwich. As bills cascade in, they begin talking, arguing. Pressures mount; the sex-charged, behind-the-back talk Her’s endured at work, unhelpful Helplines to creditors, a dying colleague giving Him a new perspective. And, like a storm cloud steadily invading Him’s life, war around the world.
Birch defines the problem acutely for this age; his solution comes trickier. And he’s sensible enough to know it’s no solution. Arriving at work with fierced-up hair and lipstick leads to Her, in bland corporate-speak, taking “the afternoon off on recommendation”. At least she gets noticed; Him is apparently invisible at work.
However, Birch has no positive place to take his characters. Withdrawal brings exclusion, mutual love frying into destruction (a major challenge for stage management; an apparently minimalist flat can contain a surprising amount of stuff).
In Nadia Latif’s production, Joe Dempsie and Lara Rossi provide the verse script with the sense of individual people, skilfully charting their shifts into self-realisation. Yet even they are finally swamped by the destructive extreme these characters reach in their modus vivendi cul-de-sac. It reflects another problem of modern city life; there’s no space to cultivate your own garden.
Him: Joe Dempsie.
Her: Lara Rossi.
Director: Nadia Latif.
Designer: Lorna Ritchie.
Lighting: Gary Bowman.
Sound/Music: Simon Slater.
Assistant director: Sam Caird.