Cordoned off by a square perimeter of pale blue light, siblings Michelle (Louise Waller) and Michael (Jamie Anthony-Rose) try to entertain themselves amongst the dust of barren ground, broken parts and busted televisions. From the spacelessness of Hugo Aguirre’s set design, they begin to recount and relive the brutality of their parental relationships.
Originally staged in 2003, Debris, Dennis Kelly’s first published play, is a bleak landscape that challenges the very notion of parental love, against media’s false-reflection of the perpetuated idyllic image. Consistently, the horrific events that chart their life (whether the father’s self-crucifixion on Michael’s sixteenth birthday, or in Michelle’s various constructed narratives for the mother’s death) are juxtaposed to the promise of the screen, which now lays hollow at the edge of the stage.
Delivered in an almost one-upmanship of trauma, Waller and Anthony-Rose have an immediately present sibling connection, without uttering a word. Expertly shifting from closed moments of intimacy that punctuate the work, to the following memory; spoken with poetic assertion that compliments Kelly’s writing.
It is in those often silent, private exchanges that the sheer weight of the complexities and pain that underlie their relationship become tangible – lodging in the throat next to the dust.
Due to the rapid nature of the text, sections briefly sway into recitation, with consequent stumbles. By relying entirely on the link between Waller and Anthony-Rose to hold the space, any dips are automatically amplified, consequently disrupting the momentum of the work. They may passingly lose their thought, but it is always regained.
Within their memories are a wealth of other characters, which they both impressively evoke and let-go with ease. The form of the text allows for a caricature-like embodiment, in line with the fluidity of their committed physicality, which is then used as much to drive the plot as to expose their relationships to these figures.
Unlike the sound design that weaves itself into the piece with visceral and revealing results, the lighting seems matter-of-fact and incongruent to the extremity of the material and performances. Unsatisfyingly, it lulls on through the production, never truly engaging with the severity of the stage.
Though the limbo atmosphere that Alex Prescot’s direction fosters is apt, it seems in need of further refinement to elevate the performance in line with its aims. Especially further clarity regarding the point from which the audience experience the work, which can also go some way to address where the play sits in 2018. Despite this, the production is layered in its exploration of love within a wasteland.
Debris is playing Theatre N16 until 25 October. For more information and tickets, click here.