The Brink

Brad Birch
Orange Tree Theatre

Ciarán Owens Credit: Helen Warner

Brad Birch’s new play is at its best when its hits the audience with wit and punchlines. In between, the play reveals secrets, deceits and hallucinations.

This is Nick’s (Ciaran Owen) disturbed world. The 28-year-old history teacher has a recurrent dream that leads him to discover what lies under the Brink.

And as the David Bowie’s "Heroes" goes (we hear it played very often in the background), Nick "can be a hero, just for one day" and avert danger and destruction, protecting his own place of work, the school where he teaches. Or at least this is what he believes.

Weary of level-headed Chloe (Shvorne Marks), Nick’s own girlfriend, he confides in his colleague, Jo (Alice Haig), who, however, is mainly distracted in recounting her own anecdotes. He even looks for answers in his boss, Mr Boyd (Vince Leigh), who is mischievous and patronising. In the meantime, he also befriends his student, Jessica (Shvorne Marks), who at fifteen is eager to learn "the truth" from her disturbed teacher, whatever that might be.

Recipient of the Harold Pinter Commission at the Royal Court, Birch seems to follow Alistair McDowall’s footsteps—incidentally Pomona also premièred at The Orange Tree—and creates a script that poses many questions and refuses to give answers.

As it all unfolds, reality, dream and hallucinations bring us into the midst of a psychological thriller that we soon realise has no real resolution or definite climax. It is in this sense that this production makes all the right decisions: a minimalistic stage, stylised scene transitions that see the characters handling and passing around fluorescent cubes.

It is a well-packaged production that strongly benefits from the script's humour and the sinisterly light-hearted tone of the dialogues. The latter is, at times, so fast-paced that it seems to spiral out of control.

While it excels in rendering a dynamic show, cleverly melting reality and the surreal, The Brink lacks the depth and structural coherence that was outstanding in Pomona. The humour, the wit and the mysterious are a drawback when the relationship between the characters is in part flimsy and under-developed.

The biggest flaw is in the relation between Nick and Jessica, his young student, who, prominent in the play synopsis, comes across as nothing more than a footnote to the narrative of the play and is merely used as a device to explain the character’s complete demise.

The alleged infatuation seems even more out-of-character for Nick if we consider his love for justice and righteousness. At the end of the day, we do not see enough of them together to make that leap.

Furthermore, the production suffers in places from the weight of its own ambition: most of the time the actors do well in keeping up with comic timing but in places they give the impression of not being totally comfortable in their own skin, juggling between stylised movements and rampant humour.

Nevertheless, one cannot but praise Ciaran Owen (Nick) in making us sympathise with the character’s ordeal and humanity. Vince Leigh is just brilliant in portraying mischievous characters like Martin, Chloe’s boss, and Mr Boyd, the school headmaster.

After all, there is enough humour and wit to make this theatrical experience a whole lot more worthwhile.

Reviewer: Mary Mazzilli