“a range of poignant moments that are coated with a wealth of relatable language”
Discussions over mental health have become increasingly prominent in recent years, which has led to a greater representation of the subject matter being explored on stage. However, this is often using long-established texts, therefore making George Jaques’ new play Breathe incredibly refreshing. Produced by Jaques’ theatre company Athenaeum Productions, the play focuses on three separate narratives involving young people that are struggling with ‘the anxieties of everyday life.’ Athenaeum’s theatrical mission is to create theatre that deals with slightly taboo societal topics, with an emphasis on those affected by young people. Hence, it seems only fitting that the production is written and performed by a host of young talent. Additionally, the audience was mainly comprised of young people which is certainly often a rarity in small London theatre venues.
It is an immense creative challenge to present a piece about suicide that deals with each branch of the subject matter without becoming contrived or superficial. Breathe explores this with incredible sensitivity, with a range of poignant moments that are coated with a wealth of relatable language and soundtracks for the younger audience. In many ways it seemed like it was written as a piece for those younger to relate to, and those older to listen to and understand. This may also be due to one of the most prominent themes running throughout the piece was the disparity that many of the characters felt between themselves and the prominent adults in their lives.
Cindy Lin’s set design was impressive and throughout the piece could be increasingly appreciated. The levels and materials used, in combination with Joseph Price’s sound and lighting design, allowed for such a small space to be adapted into several vastly different settings using minimal gimmicks.
Breathe was indeed a breath of fresh air and an establishing point for a new wave of theatre companies comprising of young people. It is a poignant piece which also aims to bring awareness and support to both the NSPCC and Childline through its production.
Breathe, written and directed by Lucrezia Pollice, tells the story of Maria, an aspiring writer in her twenties, who spends her days working in a cafe and battling her mental health issues. The play takes place in the flat which Maria shares with her friends, Eddie and Rachel. There’s also Maria’s troubled friend, Sophie, who, to the annoyance of Eddie and Rachel, frequently crashes at the flat. The play centres around the relationships between Eddie, Rachel, and Maria, in particular how Eddie and Rachel deal with Maria’s depression, anxiety, and panic attacks.
The acting is good overall. Peter Silva (Eddie) and Olivia Valler-Feltham (Rachel) are convincing as the well-meaning, but exhausted housemates trying to help their self-destructive friend. Zoe Templeman-Young (Maria) gives an authentic performance as a young woman battling her demons. Tamzin Murray plays Maria’s brash and irritating friend, Sophie, and does an admirable job with this difficult character.
Unfortunately, the audience missed a great deal of the acting as it was often difficult to see the actors. Much of the action takes place on a sofa towards the front of the stage which, unless you are in the front row, is very difficult to see.
The best part about Breathe is the story. Stories about mental health often focus on the impact on families or partners – it is less common to see a story like this, one about the effect on housemates and friends. Unfortunately, the original concept is not enough to make this a strong script. The dialogue is, for the most part, natural and engaging, but there’s a lack of structure which makes it difficult to follow the story.
Another element which lets down the thought-provoking story is the lighting and sound. Many scenes are extremely short and almost all end with a jarring blackout. This, coupled with the use of projections, make the play feel more like a short film than a piece of theatre. That being said, there are instances where the projections work well and add to the story, but the style is inconsistent, which is distracting. As for the music, the songs chosen seem to have no clear connection to the story. Sometimes it seems as if the music is intended to show the passage of time, for example several Christmas songs are played towards the end, but no mention of Christmas is made by the characters.
Overall, this is a promising script with a capable cast; the structure and staging simply need more work to make it the play the story deserves.