Writer: Brad Birch
Director: Mel Hillyard
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
Nick is not sleeping well. Every night he is woken by the same nightmare that the school at which he teaches is blown to smithereens and he himself is splattered into a million little pieces. The dreams lead him to the brink of extreme anxiety and then the discovery that unexploded World War II bombs could be buried under the school threatens to push him over the edge.
Brad Birch’s new 75-minute one-act play is an apocalyptic comedy building on the notion that, underneath the ordered normality of everyday existence, something could be waiting to explode. When Nick digs himself into a hole trying to discover what lies beneath, he goes on digging. We can readily identify with 28-year-old Nick as he faces up to the challenges of modern urban life: he is frustrated by his job; he is fending off pressure from his partner Chloe to move up the social ladder (“Buying houses…We’re not Tories Chloe”); signs are emerging of the onset of depression. It is this grounding in the real world that gives the play its bite when it moves into a more fantastical territory.
Heralded on by David Bowie’s Heroes, Ciarán Owens’ Nick is a put-upon comic everyman, skating over all life’s trials and ordeals with a shrug of the shoulder and a casual quip. He resembles the central character in a television sitcom, taking on the world with no real chance of winning. This brilliant central performance holds the entire production together.
The level-headed women in Nick’s life are his foils – Chloe, Maths student Jessica (both Shvorne Marks) and fellow teacher Jo (Alice Haig). His nemeses are the pompous and possibly duplicitous headmaster Mr Boyd and Chloe’s sneering, sarcastic boss Martin (Vince Leigh doubling up). As Nick’s nightmare becomes realer, the comedy becomes more surreal, but the play remains every bit as funny.
Mel Hillyard’s pacy and uncluttered in-the-round production catches the tone of Birch’s writing perfectly and snappy well-timed delivery of his sharp dialogue, particularly by Owens, brings an abundance of laughs, The Brink is a little gem, the lightness of the comedy on its surface contrasting beautifully with the darkness of its underlying themes.
Ironically, the building that now houses the Orange Tree Theatre was once a school. Hopefully, there are no hidden bombs, but this play itself makes a big enough bang anyway.
Runs until 30 April 2016 | Image: Helen Warner