For the most of Invisible Boundaries, it’s easy to forget that this performance is being shown on screen.
The short follows Kelly (Jackie Edwards) and Ryan (Jake Jarratt), two childhood friends who grew up together on the same poor and violent council estate. We start with Kelly remembering Ryan as a former part of her life, now aware of him lying next to her ‘like a phantom limb’, and then peel back to chart the whole of their tumultuous upbringing.
Both of the characters talk to us rather than to each other, their North East accents mixing with distinct idiolects to help create an evocative sense of place. We learn that Kelly and Ryan live on a street divided by an invisible line – one side ruled by the Grove family, the other by Ryan’s. This is where the staging comes into its own. Each side of the stage has a single chair on it, in the middle is a line of upright fluorescent lights giving off an eerie, blue glow. The invisible boundary of the title is lit up and rips through the stage to cut it in two. Subsequently, so are Kelly and Ryan – they never stand on the same side of the stage together, always divided by the lights that mirror the streetlights they stood under as kids. Though they move around, they never share the same space on stage, reflecting the disparate states that we find them in at the beginning.
The movement of the actors in general is a huge strength of Invisible Boundaries. The choreography is engaging throughout, with Kelly and Ryan often moving in sync at the start, sharing childlike dynamism, before gradually becoming more and more isolated as they grow-up. This vibrant and meaningful movement adds a fantastic theatrical element to the show, and cements this as important, live, real theatre despite having to be recorded and streamed. Applause should go to director Becky Morris for creating staging and clever choreography that manages to not undermine the grittiness of Sarah Tarbit’s script.
Because there is a grit to this story. In just fourteen minutes it explores a wide range of challenging themes, including poverty and foster care creating traps for children, and includes achingly sad lines, such as ‘why you’re too old to be loved if you’re eight’, without seeming melodramatic. In Kelly’s hardened voice, they sound merely true and unavoidable.
It definitely is Kelly who drives Invisible Boundaries – her pain and regret haunt the narrative – but Ryan is equally well drawn. Jarratt does an excellent job at displaying multiple facets of his character– Ryan’s pride and hot headedness are clear on the surface, but they are underpinned by his fierce loyalty and even a sense of naivety. He has different wounds to Kelly, and Jarratt makes it clear, non-verbally, how Ryan struggles to understand the scars of Kelly’s wounds.
There is a short sequence, of drink, drugs, and sex, which feels slightly over stylised. The strength of this piece is in how theatrical it feels, so the choice to use video techniques to create a drunken, hazy atmosphere feels a bit of a waste. There are undoubtedly ways that video editing can enhance theatrical pieces, but here it feels a little out of place – a departure from the elements that have worked so well.
Otherwise though, this is memorable, watchable, and relevant. It is the kind of theatre that is a treat to see when many of us are still restricted to watching our laptop screens.
Invisible Boundaries is streaming as part of the 10 Minutes to Call Home series. For more information visit the Live Theatre website.