Writer: E V Crowe
Director: Caitlin McLeod
Reviewer: Paul Couch
It would be a kindness to describe E V Crowe’s Brenda as a work in progress that isn’t quite there yet. That, we could forgive while looking forward to a polished end-product in the future. However, this two-hander is sold as “a brave new play that asks us what life could look like free from the everyday challenges of being a person”. Clearly the only thing that Brenda – the play, not the character – is free from is any semblance of cohesion or direction.
Take away the interstellar pauses that put Pinter to shame, all the extraneous wandering around the performance space to stare wistfully into the distance – and 60% of the pretentiousness – and this 70 minutes of tedium could easily be cut down to 20. Crowe has created something that no doubt sounded groundbreaking in her head but, given form, is just a mishmash of disparate themes and ideas.
As for a plot, yes, we get that Brenda and her security guard boyfriend are in need of income and a place to live, and that they’re about to petition the local Community Action Group for help, but that’s all we get. Any deceit that this play is about Brenda the Non-Person and Robert’s attempts to prove otherwise is unmitigated hyperbole.
One feels a degree of embarrassment for the actors. Alison O’Donnell and Jack Tarlton are unquestionably accomplished at their craft, but Crowe’s excruciating dialogue combined with Caitlin McLeod’s windy direction left them with nothing to do but whinge, shout, pout, and mooch. Oh and wind and unwind microphone cables as though their two-dimensional lives depended upon it.
It is claimed the play is site-specific to wherever it is performed, in this case, Aldeburgh Church Hall. On several occasions throughout the piece, Robert tore up the central aisle and left the building. Many of us felt like joining him in the car park.
Brenda is set to transfer to London in a week’s time. When the ringtone on a character’s mobile phone is more entertaining than the rest of your play, it may be worth burning some midnight oil with a substantial re-write before that happens.
Brenda runs at HighTide until 19 September and then at London’s Yard Theatre from 22 September. | Photo: Nobby Clark