“We could be anywhere,” a fellow audience member noted in the interval, with reference to an extremely sparse set in This Is Living, which is, admittedly, overly dependent on the text to give a sense of time and place. It took the help of the script to properly navigate my way through it – there is, for instance, nothing detectable in the course of the play to suggest a particular scene was set in: “November 2011. A B&B in Truro.” It does become clear that the narrative is not told in chronological order, but this does not detract too much from a powerful and absorbing production. There is, in any event, something quite universal about the pain of loss and bereavement, which will touch us all in some form at some stage.
I’m not, however, entirely sure the sheer amount of swearing, and always the same expletive at that, was strictly necessary. That said, there are people who do talk like that, and other recent theatrical examples with effing and blinding (or, in this case, just effing and effing) abound, including Matthew Perry’s The End of Longing and the ever-popular musical from the creators of ‘South Park’, The Book of Mormon.
Not for the fainthearted, it’s different to a lot of new plays, which tend to suddenly impose a critical incident on its audiences after wasting some time painting a picture of everything in life being exquisitely pleasant and good. Here, the non-linear narrative causes Alice Moon (Tamla Kari) to begin, as I did in the stalls, slightly confused as to what precisely is going on. From the start, the play is acutely intense, and frankly exhausting to watch, tempered only by moments of light humour in the everyday moments of life.
Some fellow theatregoers thought the inclusion of an interval too interrupting to the narrative, but I’m actually glad this play has an interval. I suspect I would have been very drained indeed without one, and the simultaneously tense but strangely welcoming atmosphere created in the first half resumed without a beat at the start of the second, and never ceased to the very end. (And what’s wrong with an interval? Many plays and musicals have one!)
Michael Cox (Michael Socha) is the quieter half of this couple, Alice being lovably brash and extroverted, confident – and the one better able to face the big bad world. It is, therefore, a big understatement so say that he struggles without her, and it is thus painfully difficult to say goodbye, especially when the parting of the ways comes so young – Michael is 31, Alice is 28.
A full gamut of emotions is explored in this play, which lurches between the present and flashbacks of the past. What’s extraordinary is that it never gets over-emotional or melodramatic – silences where some other productions of other plays may have insisted on music, is appropriate, even golden. There’s a maturity to this production beyond the years of its actors, the characters they play, and the playwright.
The staging, designed by Sarah Beaton, is unique. There’s water, and plenty of it, such that both actors end up soaked to the skin, and the drip-drip- drip of their clothes whenever they rose from a seated position (there aren’t even any chairs on stage) perhaps distracted me more than it should have done.
Or maybe it was meant to be discomforting – if I were asked if I enjoyed the play, I would have to say ‘no’. But that’s because ‘enjoy’ is the wrong word to describe this harrowing and hard-hitting piece of theatre. A very promising debut from Liam Borrett.
Review by Chris Omaweng
‘You weren’t moving. Your hair was soaked. We saw you‘
Alice and Michael met six years ago. Three years later their daughter Lily was born. Now, in a Yorkshire meadow, just past midnight, they’re having an argument. Because Alice is cold, she’s tired, and Michael won’t stop telling her that she died twelve hours ago.
Following a critically-acclaimed Edinburgh production, this award-winning debut play by Liam Borrett will be presented at Trafalgar Studios 2, starring Michael Socha (E4’s The Aliens, This is England, Being Human) and Tamla Kari (BBC’s The Musketeers, The Inbetweeners Movie), a poignant exploration of what it means to say goodbye.
This Is Living
Trafalgar Studio Two
14 Whitehall, London, SW1A 2DY
Booking to 11th June 2016