Thursday, 14 April 2016

Review The Brink


The Brink
by Brad Birch

The History Boy

It's  a tough life as a teacher - one moment you're Superman for all the kids, but then starts the dark descent into the shallow grave of marking, academy politics and dreaming the top secret Second World War bomb under the playing fields explodes.

History teacher Nick (Ciarán Owens) can't sleep, having woken from his recurrent school nightmare but finds a handy cube to sit on.to eat his breakfast.

The glowing cube is one of four on an interesting set designed by Hyemi Shin introducing us to Planet Nick with s floor full of dark gray shards - almost as if a bomb had - well, never mind ...

The Brink by Brad Birch is a vigorous 80 minutes without a break, fleetly directed by Mel Hillyard, as Nick's life is put on reverse through the school system. 

Time slips away and we're not sure if we're being treated to an inside out skewed view of the world through Nick's mind, or if he, to use The Archers mot de jour, is being gaslighted.

Or if there really is a bomb under the playing fields.

And as her little motorised 'A' grade student companion remarked to TLT, aren't school playing fields being sold off to developers? But perhaps that's the point of why we've come to The Brink.

Yet the play struck us as a rather cold exercise with studied jokes, a bare bones' gallop through an educational breakdown with movie references. But again, perhaps that's part of the point. The exercise of theory in education?

TLT doesn't know whether she's been infected by the Francophone feel enveloping many of this season's plays but she did wonder whether  a French context might be more resonant with its  history of left wing (nay, communist) history teachers, militant university student surveillants, and pride in secularism.

At the same time, there are clever ideas, even if The Brink doesn't quite know whether it wants to invite sympathy or be a harshly modern Hogarthian storyboard satire. As it is, it's ticking off of the issues, plot points and jokes may be satisfying for some.

 Owens embodies an engaging mix of intellectual analysis, puppyish vulnerability and bouncing-off-the-wall paranoia. There's able support from Shvorne Marks doubling as Nick's partner Chloe and school pupil Jessica, Alice Haig as fellow teacher Jo and Vince Leigh as Chloe's hotshot boss Martin and shifty headmaster Mr Boyd. 

So it's not quite an A grade from TLT but it's definitely a not-fail amber light.

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