Reviews London TheatreOWE & Fringe Published 14 April 2016

Review: The Brink at Orange Tree Theatre

Orange Tree Theatre ⋄ 7th - 30th April 2016

Scratching an itch: Brendan Macdonald reviews Brad Birch’s play about explosive truths.

Brendan Macdonald
The Brink at Orange Tree Theatre. Photo: Helen Warner.

The Brink at Orange Tree Theatre. Photo: Helen Warner.

The pursuit for truth is a maddening one. It’s an irrational and incurable itch that tantalizes us to scratch deeper and deeper until the deep red of flesh bleeds against the surrounding skin. And the itch doesn’t stop, even when others tell us to stop hurting ourselves. The possibility of really knowing something right through to its bare composition is so seductive that we continue to excoriate the skin. The itch still doesn’t stop. To continue to scratch is of course to reach the brink, to hit bone and beyond, to touch at the very foundations of existence which may well lead to annihilation.

Instead of a straight drop, The Brink is a sloping but unyielding descent. It begins on steady ground: Nick is a 28-year-old living with his girlfriend Chloe (Shvorne Marks), is a ‘History’ (and-everything-else) teacher at the nearby school. He has recently been plagued by recurring dreams about a bomb on the playing fields, called the Brink, exploding and devastating the school. With amusing (albeit sometimes over-orchestrated) jokes about sex dreams and Tories buying houses, the tone at the beginning is light-hearted, even mundane. The mysterious material scattered on the stage appears a sort of pale green, perhaps it’s grass or playground mulch.

But when he’s told by Mr Boyd (Vince Leigh) that there may be a hint of prophesy to his visions, Nick chases the claim and the ground begins to slant. As he alienates his loved ones and begins to call conspiracy, he finds comfort in Jessica, the only maths club student, who above all yearns for an education, who wishes to be taught the truth. Persistent in his mission to be a hero, Nick goes still deeper. And the colour of the material isn’t green at all but a pale grey, like cinder, like ash.

By maintaining a steady decline with a sharp pitch, Brad Birch writes a tightly wound thriller which unsettles because no point of reference is provided. We cannot see the precipice or how far Nick has gone. We cannot hear the ticking of a timer; we do not know the time of detonation. While it could be considered a psychological piece, The Brink feels more about the search for truth. A dangerous glimpse of determination appears in Owens’s eyes as both he and Mel Hillyard’s direction become increasingly jolted and emphatic in their relentless pursuit. The frenzy is countered by Haig as Jo, Leigh as Martin and Marks as Chloe who are like the luminous blocks of the set: structured, textbook characters, almost robotic. To Nick, they become obstacles in his way.

But towards what? Perhaps Birch’s best insight is the disturbing parallel between reaching one’s potential and confronting one’s destruction. Chloe tells Nick, ‘You have so much potential. It’s what I fell in love with in the first place’. Here potential is positive, something to fulfil. But potential is also a key ingredient to the wreckage caused by a bomb, an object essentially comprised of incendiary material and potential energy. A bomb’s purpose is to blow up, ‘it’s meant to, that’s its job’. And the moment a bomb reaches its potential and succeed in its purpose, it ceases to exist. It is sheer potentiality and can’t existence as anything else.

What if we are like bombs? What if the fulfilment of our own potential is forever linked with our own destruction? Oedipus’s redemption occurs when he uncovers the truth of his identity which ultimately leads him to his downfall. Our horribly insatiable desire to know and understand things can bring deeply uncomfortable and catastrophic consequences. It can be explosive. The brilliant tragedy of it all is that even amidst this realisation, even when we see the blood, the itch still itches.

The Brink is on until 30th April 2016. Click here for tickets.

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Brendan Macdonald is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Review: The Brink at Orange Tree Theatre Show Info


Directed by Mel Hillyard

Written by Brad Birch

Cast includes Alice Haig, Vince Leigh, Shvorne Marks, Ciaran Owens

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