Debris

Dennis Kelly
Theatre 503
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
(2004)

Opening with a monologue each from brother and sister Michael (Daniel Harcourt) and Michelle (Carolyn Tomkinson), Debris chronicles a bizarre, fantastic series of events resulting in betrayal and bloodshed.

Over the course of an hour, the audience learns about Michael and Michelle's dysfunctional family life, the death of their mother (though it's not till the end of the piece that we learn the truth about this event, and the effect its had on the lives of both children), their relationship with their father, and most critically (and a bit stomach-churningly), the appearance of the baby who changes their lives forever.

There are some small issues with the script - the constant use of monologue wears a bit thin, especially when Kelly's choice of phrasing becomes increasingly repetitive (mostly in Michael's speeches). What makes the length and (limited) tedium of these sections even more obvious is how bright and alive the stage becomes when Kelly lets Michael and Michelle show off their sibling rivalry. Harcourt and Tomkinson's interactions simply sparkle, and it's in these moments that Debris is at its most entertaining. During scenes where one or both of them portrays multiple characters (the adults with whom the children have to interact), they slip in and out of each persona easily and distinctively, with the only confusion over who precisely they're playing coming at the beginning of the first time this occurs.

Under the direction of Tessa Walker, Harcourt and Tomkinson give convincing, well-physicalised performances which manage to draw the audience in even during the script's weaker moments.

Sophie Charalambous' set is functional but sparse. Given the number of times characters in Kelly's play refer to the squalor in which they live, one wonders why more wasn't made of this in the way the set was laid out…but that's more of a question than a gripe, as what is there serves perfectly well. Lighting, designed by Phil Hewitt, is straightforward but very well utilized, creating a multitude of various states of mind and dividing the physical space of the performance area into carefully delineated locations.

What's probably most interesting about Debris is how well it blends fact and fantasy, and how blurry the line between the two becomes. Michelle, in particular, tells some fantastic stories about how her mother died. Thanks to Tomkinson's open manner in playing this little girl, it's almost impossible not to take this character at her word - even after one suspects one should know better.

This production may not suit everyone's tastes, thanks to its graphic and often disturbing imagery and subject matter, but those whose tastes run toward the macabre will find Debris to be a thought-provoking and, for the most part, entertaining piece of theatre.

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Reviewer: Rachel Lynn Brody