“I know it’s hard but you’re hurting me”
One of the rarest things to find in the theatre, for me at least, is people I actually want to spend time with. On stage, of course. But Alice and Michael, the couple at the heart of Liam Borrett’s debut play This is Living, are just that – adorable, engaging, quirky, funny, utterly and thoroughly human. There were times where I could have listened to them talk for hours, whether the awkward bumbling of their first encounter or their flirtatious banter or the precious moments of genuine soulmate connection, I can’t remember the last time I just wanted to kick back and listen like this.
Which is exactly what Borrett wants, as he pulls the rug out from underneath the relationship by killing Alice off. Spoilers I hear you cry but don’t worry, that’s how the play opens, with Michael having to tell his partner that she died 12 hours ago. From there, we get a beautifully restrained and moving exploration of love and loss as we flick between present and past and back again, sometimes in the space of a howled emotion or a single sentence, the unimaginable pain of losing a loved one both exacerbated and made more tolerable by clinging onto the memories of a life lived.
A reworked and recast version of the 2014 Edinburgh Festival hit, This is Living thus manages to both break your heart and fill it with joy simultaneously. As Michael repeatedly returns to the spot where his wife died, together they try to find a way to move on, to say goodbye, to get through a grief made worse by the fact that they’re parents to a 3 year old girl too. In the splash pool of Sarah Beaton’s design, the grim reality of Alice’s fate is ever-present but it also provides the kind of transcendental blankness needed for Jackie Shemesh’s transformative lighting to move us through timestreams.
And the play is anchored by two exceptional performances. Tamla Kari leaves nothing on the floor as a woman who feels everything fiercely, from marriage to miscarriage, partying to purgatory, her energy soars to wonderful highs and desperate lows. And Michael Socha makes a stellar London theatre debut, altogether more contained as his grieving widower struggles to process what is happening, and is all the more heartbreaking for it. Together with Borrett, they paint as beautiful a picture of coupledom as I’ve seen this year, the purity of their love and friendship something truly special.