Brad Birch’s new play The Brink picks you up and shakes you. It challenges you and then lingers long in your mind after you leave the theatre. It creates questions, starts conversations and is a quick, sharp look into the world of anxiety.
The play tells the story of history teacher Nick (Ciaran Owens) whose recurring dream is preventing him from sleeping and is haunting his waking hours. Nick’s girlfriend Chloe (Shvorne Marks) immediately assumes he is depressed but his colleague Jo (Alice Haig) laughs off his fears –after all, a dream doesn’t mean anything. Or does it? When Nick discusses his problem with his boss Mr Boyd (Vince Leigh) a secret is uncovered that causes more confusion. What originally was just a dream may turn out to be a reality. Should Nick share the secret he has unearthed and potentially save a lot of people, or stay silent and avoid the disruption of normality? As the people around Nick try to silence his worries he becomes more and more isolated. The decline of his mental state correlates with the increasing uncertainty surrounding the truth.
Birch’s script is unsettlingly authentic and is packed to the brim with humour, even in the darkest moments. We learn the story with sympathy for Nick’s point of view but question his narratorial trustworthiness as the ending spirals into what feels like a psychological thriller. The direction from Mel Hillyard is so articulate and neat, creating a juxtaposition with the cluttered mind of the central character. Hyemi Shin’s set complements this direction, consisting of a floor covered in rubber chippings and four light-up boxes. In between scenes a tense soundscape is played as Nick becomes more and more obsessed with the boxes being placed evenly apart. These moments in between the scenes increase in tension as the play continues and we see Nick’s psyche increasingly strained, edging closer towards the brink of insanity.
The cast are extremely talented and engrossing to watch. It is clear how in tune with one another and the text they are, as humour and speed of dialogue is delivered with great precision. The versatility of the actors can be seen particularly in the case of Shvorne Marks, who doubles up as Nick’s girlfriend Chloe and Year 10 student Jessica, and Vince Leigh who plays both the headteacher Mr Boyd and the pretentious Martin. Ciaran Owens’s wonderful portrayal of Nick allows the audience to be totally on his side for the majority of the play, to the point where you question whether even you’ve been fooled into believing that the other characters are conspiring against him. You are never quite sure of the reliability of the series of events, which is thrilling to watch.
The Brink is playing at the Orange Tree Theatre until 30 April. For more information and tickets, see the Orange Tree Theatre website. Photo: Helen Warner