Entering a show which comes laden with trigger warnings always fills me with some sense of nervousness. Yet this doesn’t appear to have put off the sold-out audience which has come to see Brink, the latest offering from Nitrous Cow Productions. What emerges is certainly not an easy watch, but is nevertheless a slick and well-designed production: it is beautifully and professionally staged, and enacted by an impeccable cast.
The performances given by all actors involved are fantastic, without a weak link between the six. Particularly at the start, there’s a slight disparity in the stage time given to each character, though this is gradually resolved as the piece progresses. Similarly, the complexity of some characters’ stories can make it difficult to empathise with all equally – some are obscure, some caricatured – but nevertheless all remain strangely compelling, in their own way. Despite clutching a dead fox fashioned out of brown paper, even the busybody neighbour (Julia Pilkington) manages to garner some sympathy amongst the absurdity. Particular mention must go to Lee Simmonds as Damian and Hannah Taylor as Kelly Anne, who both manage to deftly combine brilliant comedic timing with heart-wrenching and uncomfortable soliloquies. At times you can literally hear the audience switch from happy laughter to uncomfortable silence, a dichotomy which this piece calls for.
It’s interesting to see how, just as these characters come and go, the staging changes from scene to scene – parties are filled with a relentless flurry of movement, while other characters are left perennially alone. It’s an incredibly professional production – the technical elements are visceral and arresting, with every piece of set used to precise effect (I was pleasantly surprised by the use of light blocks as mobile phone screens, starkly highlighting the characters’ faces). Each trick of the light is powerful, every motion is carefully choreographed, and the wonderful soundscape deftly complements the piece’s claustrophobic effect. There’s not a moment the atmosphere couldn’t be cut with a knife.
There were some interesting choices made within the script itself: it was certainly more a series of monologues than a conglomerate narrative – none of them appeared to coincide (apart from some oblique references to the aforementioned fox). It’s not necessarily a criticism – the piece’s message of disconnectedness lends itself to such a tone – but one can’t help but wonder what the potential could have been for more crossover. It also certainly could have benefited from shortening – although the gradually building final climax was one of the show’s greatest strengths, reducing the length by a half-hour and removing the interval would have helped greatly.
But above it all, there’s still a wonderful poetry to Brink, a rhythm which weaves between the characters and results in some beautiful turns of phrase. It’s a difficult watch, certainly, but both visually and aurally, it’s song-like. And as it begins to accelerate towards it’s brink, you find you just can’t look away.