Breathe is a new, one-act play written and directed by the talented Lucrezia Pollice. It tells the story of a group of friends, struggling to grow up and find their place in the world. We watch as relationships flourish and die, as friendships are tested and as secrets bubble to the surface and threaten to turn everything they know on its head. Breathe tackles the incredibly topical issue of mental health in a stimulating and honest way and makes an effort to be inclusive and diverse. For example, it was incredibly refreshing to see a lesbian relationship on stage when it wasn’t just a source of tension or despair. It wasn’t included as a mere plot point, it was just who those characters happened to be.
Although the stories behind the relationships that we saw tended to lean towards cliché (the old friends that fall in love, one partner that’s ‘bad’ for the other one, etc.), the portrayal of them was tangible and sensitive. The connection the actors had with each other on stage was electric and enthralling – clearly Pollice did not overlook the importance of building a strong, trusting ensemble in her rehearsals. Breathe was well cast, each of the actors different enough to complement one another in an interesting way. Peter Silva’s Eddie was warm, lovable and provided us with some much-needed comic relief. Olivia Valler-Feltham showed us a complex, well-rounded Rachel, both the fiercely protective friend and the highly strung housemate. Emily Olum’s performance as Sophie was raw and exciting, a breath of fresh air amongst the other, more grounded characters. And finally, Zoe Templeman-Young had the challenge of portraying Maria, our anxiety-ridden lead, without letting the character become the sum of her mental health issues – something we so often see in popular culture. She rose to it completely; the Maria we came to see saw was nuanced, truthful and relatable.
Reuben Speed’s set design was thoughtful and original, it’s bold and colourful style immediately setting us down in a house full of 20-somethings through the use of smart, simple devices; a half-eaten box of Coco Pops stuck to the backdrop, an empty beer can casually laying next to a MacBook. I do, however, question the use of film in this production; short snippets of distorted footage overlaid with voice-overs of erratic internal monologues were dotted throughout the production. But, rather than enhancing our connection with the characters, they caused a lull in the performance, detracting from the wonderful state of aliveness that the actors had so effectively created.
Overall, Breathe is a thoroughly enjoyable piece of theatre that’s funny, emotional and (in the end) heart-warming. With a such a promising team of young actors and creatives, I’m excited to see where it goes next.