It is almost inevitable when two people meet for the first time that there’s going to be some friendly but guarded conversation as they get to know one another. Except, in Burning Bridges, Sarah Seliman (Rae Brogan) is particularly forthright on account of her Asperger’s Syndrome, though, as the play will later reveal, this may or may not be a sufficient explanation for her unusual conduct in its entirety. Dan Thomas (Simon Bubb) is thus left a little stunned at the “high possibility” that he would turn out to “be an asshole”. The terse remarks from Sarah continue and continue until any residue of dark humour has been well and truly used up. It may be a very realistic portrayal of someone with Asperger’s – my fellow theatregoer “loved the dialogue” – but it doesn’t make great theatre.
The first half plods along steadily, with the final scene before the interval so predictable it frankly dragged. “It started with a kiss,” sang Errol Brown from the band Hot Chocolate some years ago, “I never thought it would come to this.” But here, that kiss took far too long to come. At least the audience’s patience was rewarded in the second half, where the narrative becomes infinitely grittier and substantially more intriguing. There’s even police involvement.
Some of the punchlines are highly cringeworthy, and attempts to be light-hearted come across as striving for gags and laughs. The script would work better perhaps as a television sitcom – you know the sort, gag after gag after gag, with canned laughter. In the theatre, the drive for humour even at the expense of character development is too noticeable. The play is simply trying too hard, and becomes uneasy viewing as a result.
Completing the trio of characters is Dan’s wife and Sarah’s sister Kate (Anne Adams), who I thought could have been more convincing had she been more furious with Dan when the truth about what was going on between him and Sarah behind her back became clear. As it is, she wails too much, and even this unfortunately spills into melodrama, albeit mercifully briefly.
The music used in the scene changes was extremely irritating. I never thought I’d see the day when I would say this, but I would have preferred listening to One Direction, referenced in the play, to this barely melodic cacophony of sound. Mind you, there are some noteworthy parts, such as a scene in which the three characters come on and off stage so seamlessly and with split-second precise timing it is reminiscent of a British comedy farce. There’s something about Sarah’s candidness, too, that for a split second made me think what would happen if everyone behaved like that, telling the undiluted truth in an abrasive manner. I quickly shuddered at the chaos that would ensue.
At least it isn’t all about Asperger’s, and a number of other themes come to the fore. After Sarah is questioned by police officers (I couldn’t possibly say what she was being questioned about without marching firmly into spoiler territory) it would appear there were ‘leading questions’ being used – that is, the police were asking questions in a way that encouraged her to supply them with the answers they wanted. The resulting consequences are immense for all three characters, and I only wish the rest of the play were as gripping as the final half hour or so.
This is a good attempt from Amy Shindler for a first play. The production is well cast, and there were some genuinely funny moments. Had there been more consistency in the quality of the script it would have been more enjoyable.
Review by Chris Omaweng
“When she was little she was obsessed with me- if I didn’t play with her or sit next to her she screamed her head off. Then one day she replaced me with a Captain crunch cereal box.”
When Sarah, a young woman with Asperger’s Syndrome, comes to visit her sister and brother-in-law, what starts as a fortnight of family holiday, spirals into a nightmare of accusation and intrigue.
A love triangle with a dangerous twist, this moving and funny play explores the everyday dilemmas of a young woman living with autism; what to eat, what to watch on TV, and how to seduce your sister’s husband with a piece of cake.
Cast: Anne Adams, Rae Brogan and Simon Bubb.
Director: Sally Knyvette; Designer: Max Dorey; Lighting Designer: Dan Saggar
The Latchmere, 503 Battersea Park Road, London, SW11 3BW
13 Sep – 8 Oct 2016, 7.45pm (Sundays 5pm) Running Time: 105min, inc. Interval