“I didn’t realise things would be so fucking intense”
The lives of the two characters in Even Stillness Breathes Softly Against A Brick Wall start off the most mundane of circumstances: tales of crowded commuting, office politics at the lower end of the scale, doing battle with mercenary credit card and mobile phone companies. But the niggling unease at the stifling monotony of the 9 to 5 has been building up for far too long and when war breaks out in some far-off land, it triggers some deep contemplation into how everyday life there would be affected and in turn provokes a questioning of their own existence.Thus we bear witness to their lives simultaneously imploding and exploding into jagged chaos.
Brad Birch’s enigmatic writing was sparked by a piece of his own poetry – the 4.5 pages of an introduction to the playtext may seem indulgent but actually prove an interesting read – and it maintains much of that feel. A lyrical complexity plays with repeated imagery and phrases to enrich the at-times gnomic text with a sense of thematic unity, but Birch mainly eschews simplistic narrative for an opaqueness of meaning and purpose which frustrates as much as it intrigues.
Rebelling against their situation are ‘Him’ and ‘Her’ as they retreat from their all-too-ordinary lives to cocoon themselves in the imagined safety of their flat. Joe Dempsie and Lara Rossi both give commendably committed performances as these partners in life who are somehow occupying different spaces, their words are constructed more like two monologues intertwined than actual conversation yet there’s a strong sense of interconnectedness which means you thoroughly buy into the heady rush of their relationship and appreciate the different speeds at which they are moving.
But despite the vividness of this world and the undoubted skill with which it is portrayed, Birch never answers the questions he poses. ‘What would happen if you just said no?’ we never really get to find out. And Nadia Latif’s direction, strong for the most part, mis-steps in investing a late scene of destructive carousing with such orgasmic energy that the lull that follows masks the fascinating way in which the key relationship has changed. To coin a phrase, the production shoots its load and never really recovers. It is short enough to warrant interest though as its construction really is ingenious and for those of you that care about such things, Dempsie takes the curtain call in his boxer shorts.