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Review of Breathe at the Tristan Bates Theatre, London

Breathe written and directed by Lucrezia Pollice
Breathe written and directed by Lucrezia Pollice

At least Maria (Zoe Templeman-Young) can’t be accused of not reaching out and suffering in silence: a huge piece of card is tied to a piece of string that hangs around her neck reading, in capital letters, ‘I’m hurting’. Breathe is not a typical quarter-life crisis play – Maria is not always universally angry with everything and everyone. Her anxiety attacks are known to her lover Sophie (Emily Olum), housemate Rachel (Oliver Valler-Feltham) and Rachel’s partner Eddie (Peter Silva). Like every long-term friendship, the one between Maria and Rachel ebbs and flows. The one between Maria and Sophie is more strained, providing an interesting enough juxtaposition to the one between Eddie and Rachel, which, as far as the play’s narrative is concerned, looks set to continue quite happily.

The use of video projections helped provide some context to the plotlines. In the first one, what I assume is a child Maria claims she is being bullied. By whom and in what context I couldn’t quite ascertain (it could have been anything from sustained playground taunting to a one-time misunderstanding), but the production would appear to suggest it had an impact on Maria’s life into adulthood, and may explain, at least in part, why she continues to be rather defensive. The videos are largely flashbacks from years ago, which aids understanding of the ‘live’ performances: the on-stage characters are always in the present day.

It is particularly difficult for a show like this not to tip over into melodrama, especially when the script calls for uncontrollable weeping on the part of Maria. But this production just about manages it. Even so, A Streetcar Named Desire’s Blanche DuBois momentarily came to mind, though the ‘kindness of strangers’ in this play only reaches so far. Whatever one’s political ideology, public services are, overall, stretched, and while it is true that one only gets what one pays for, Maria’s personal budget doesn’t allow for the sort of treatment for her anxiety disorder that she would ideally want. But if you’re after a bit of Tory-bashing, look elsewhere: there’s nothing preachy about this production.

The scene changes are slick and smooth, though I’m still trying to work out whether the inclusion of a dance routine to the strains of Gnarls Barkley’s chart music hit ‘Crazy’ was meant to be ironic or self-deprecatory, or both. Maria is far from oblivious to the consequences of her own actions, and even when she tells Rachel and Eddie over the phone about some good news, there’s more than a modicum of ‘okay, great, but…’ amongst all the smiles and congratulations.

There’s the right amount of humour to balance out the more solemn elements of the show. A petty argument about a television remote control is the sort of mundane but nonetheless relatable event that maintains interest. The importance of friendship can never be underestimated, and this production, perhaps inadvertently, made me think where the Marias of the big, bad world we live in would be without those informal support networks? Maria’s friends seemed, at least in this case, to be infinitely more helpful than the institutional help available. And there’s a piece of advice that’s useful whenever that thing called life wears us down and gets on our nerves. Just Breathe.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

A dark comedy about anxiety and friendship in the modern age.
Breathe pans across the struggles of four housemates living in London trying to successfully accomplish their dreams. Personal secrets, fears and dreams emerge as their lives intertwine, revealing the importance of friendship in the face of anxiety and depression. Will they choose security or transform their fears into fuel to conquer their dreams?

CAST
Zoe Templeman-Young
Peter Silva
Olivia Valler-Feltham­
Emily Olum

CREATIVE
Director & Filmmaker Lucrezia Pollice
Co-Producers Aretusa Campagnolo and Lucrezia Pollice
Assistant Producer Joanna Woznicka
Assistant & Movement Director Viola Bruni
Sound Designer Beth Duke
Set Designer Reuben Speed
Lighting Designer Sam Thomas
Videographer Beatrice Taylor
Poster Design Daniel Woodfield
Graphic Design Zahra Fontenelle
Animator Norbert Garab
Dramaturg Camila Robinson-Rodriguez

Breathe
6th – 11th August 2018
7.45pm
Run Time: 1 hour
https://www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk/

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