This is Living**** (Trafalgar Studios)

Posted: May 20, 2016 in Theatre

Production Image - This is Living - Michael Socha and Tamla Kari (courtesy Alex Harvey-Brown) (6)This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub: http://www.thereviewshub.com

This is living. Or is it? Liam Borrett’s play, first seen at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last August, moves between reality and illusion, tragedy and comedy to explore the relationship between the living and the dead. The play begins with Alice lying face down on watery ground. Her sudden resurrection shocks her bereaved partner Michael and she proceeds as if nothing had changed after a brief absence, enquiring about the wellbeing of their three-year-old daughter. Neither Borrett’s writing nor this production which he directs himself, dwells on any supernatural elements, his point being that Alice lives on in Michael’s consciousness, supporting and guiding him. She is someone that he can talk to, just as he still talks to his late mother when he asks her to welcome Alice on her arrival after the funeral. Alice and Michael, both in their twenties, are marked by their simplicity and their uncomplicated values. The focus of the play is on life’s basics – coupling, parenthood and death. Scenes from the present are intercut with flashbacks – a nervous first encounter on the Piccadilly Line, courtship, a traumatic miscarriage – and movements in time are signalled, without costume changes, by lighting. The present is dark, the past is bright. Sarah Beaton’s set, an oblong platform with puddles lying on its surface, adds to a bleak sense of limbo, a transitional place that does not quite belong to everyday life. However, Alice and Michael are very much everyday people, ordinary in every sense, but brought to vivid life by natural, physical performances from Tamla Kari and Michael Socha. The chemistry generated between them propels and lifts this production and, while their characters’ separation is harrowing, they find humour in unexpected places. Kari’s Alice is “bossy” and outwardly confident, matching Michael’s awkwardness as the couple fumble through the early stages of their relationship. She predicts that she will no more than “muddle through” as a mother, but shows the fortitude to conquer adversity. It is plain to see why she gives Michael strength and why he cannot adjust quickly to her life being extinguished abruptly. He will continue leaning on her until he is ready to let her go. Borrett gives us very little specific information about the two characters. All we know about Michael is that he is a decent bloke whose sole aim in life is to be a dad. Socha pulls off quite a feat in making him interesting and in giving a touching account of the grieving process. Michael’s manner is clumsy, but his devotion to Alice is unswerving and at times comic, not least when he asks her “what do you want to wear?”, as he makes the preparations for her funeral. At this performance, the audience sensed (correctly) that the play had reached its natural conclusion and began to applaud, only to find that there is an overlong break in darkness during which the production’s only furniture is brought on. The final scene that then follows feels superfluous. A little snipping could also make earlier flashback scenes much sharper and the inclusion of an interval that interrupts the flow and lowers the tension should be reconsidered. However, none of that needs to detract too much from the qualities of a production that could have been mawkish, but is in fact poignant, truthful and often funny.

Performance date: 19 May 2016

Image: Alex Harvey-Brown

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