Jon Fosse’s I Am The Wind is a meditation on acceptance and resistance; an exercise in philosophical manoeuvring around the subject of death. It is also a text which nearly drowns under the weight of its own wordiness. Even in Simon Stephens’ no-frills version the pun is intentional: this play is full of hot air. But, that aside, Patrice Chéreau’s dynamic production isn’t completely sunk; the addictive performances of Tom Brooke and Jack Laskey inject enough life into Fosse’s existential posturing to see you through.
They’re both pretty gaunt, these two men on a boat, both physically and mentally, at the edge of their reason. Brooke’s character (they have no names, they are simply The One and The Other) dallies with the idea of death while Laskey acts as a friendly and increasingly desperation inquisitor. Described by the Young Vic as a ‘contemporary fable’ it’s hard to see what moral lesson is to be learned here; the piece may anthropomorphize the sea and air but it does very little beyond that. “I didn’t quite understand it” a woman in front says, troubled, “That’s OK, I don’t think anyone did,” her friend says comfortably, “that’s not the point”.
But what is the point? Apart from some truly committed performances and some cool, calculated direction, the point of the piece is hard to see. Fosse’s text may scream but it never goes beyond anything other than amateur psychology. As such it feels pretentious and worse, slightly preachy.
Richard Peduzzi’s industrial design turns the sea into a muddy pool which is initially inviting as you watch the sodden splendour of the two duelling companions. After a while it comes not to seem so harmless and after their boat emerges you feel increasingly glad to be sat safely in the auditorium with dry socks on. There is something epic about watching Brooke and Laskey cling to and gamble about on the sophisticated hydraulic platform which represents their vessel; at times you feel quite off balance. Chéreau’s direction allows these two performers to flex their muscles and the stage positively heaves with a tension that almost makes you forget about the measured pauses that dog the script. Brooke fights a valiant battle, playing a character one just wants to slap, and giving him a down-to-earth practicality. Laskey’s slow descent into desperation is also beautifully played; he never overdoes his building hysteria and it adds a genuine bite of anguish to the piece.
Éric Neveux’s score creates an emotionally suggestive landscape which attempts to manipulate its audience into responses that the piece perhaps does not deserve. It’s a pity Chereau simply didn’t leave things be, and let the sound of rippling water, the characters’ laboured breathing and the slow heaving of the hydraulics speak for themselves.
Troubled theatrical waters then, but Chéreau steers a none-the-less compelling ship. It is strangely upsetting watching Laskey trying to both make sense of and save his increasingly cracked friend; it’s a struggle which stays with you despite the self-importance of the ending and even after you have emerged from the gloom.