Bunker Theatre, London – until 4 August 2018
Breathe is a play about teen suicide told through the eyes of teenagers. In fact, it’s produced by youth theatre company Athenaeum, which gives it an interesting and insightful lens through which to explore the topic. We know right from the start how this play is going to end, the story is the journey: What leads three teens to step over the edge?
Jack (Byron Easmon) displays symptoms of manic depression and is obsessed with how he looks, Sam (Martha Hay) has got herself into an inappropriate relationship with an authority figure and Leo (George Jaques – also the writer) is struggling with his sexuality – and grief.
Each story is told via a relationship to a significant person in their life: Girlfriend (Elizabeth Brierley), boyfriend (Douglas Clarke-Wood) and older brother (Gus Flind-Henry), and the narratives interweave with sometimes two or three playing out simultaneously.
It has the effect of giving the play spikes of an almost overwhelming turmoil. Frustrations are not just expressed verbally but also in action, often repetitive behaviour such as hammering on a laptop keyboard. In some deft direction from Hannah Hauer-King, the actors remain on the multi-level stage, always in view and on hand to give background assistance in a scene or quietly building on their own story.
However, despite the continual presence of others, the feelings of isolation and vulnerability remain.
Switching between the stories does leave the play vulnerable to a lack of depth and I did hanker after a bit more detail for each character but played collectively there are some strong messages.
A fulfilling life seems like such a simple desire but as the play shows it is far more tricky to achieve even under day to day pressures.
The final moments are peppered with seemingly incongruous mundane thoughts such as wishing for a forgotten coat to protect against the cold which adds emotional agency.
It is an accomplished piece and certainly pegs Athenaeum and director Hauer-King as ones to watch.
Breathe is 70 minutes long and is at the Bunker Theatre, in Borough, until August 4.
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