Even Stillness Breathes Softly Against A Brick Wall
Even Stillness Breathes Softly Against A Brick Wall isn't the catchiest title for a play, and it certainly doesn't give very much away. But if this is the biggest issue to be found with Brad Birch's Soho Theatre debut, then he must be doing something right.
Featuring just two characters - Him and Her - who "wake up" every day to the same routine, we are treated to the intimate workings of a relationship in crisis. This isn't because of their love for each other, but because of the world outside, which slowly crushes their spirit with each mundane task and daily woe.
Him (Joe Dempsie) is in a job he hates, surrounded by people who don't care, even when a long time co-worker becomes terminally ill. "I am a still life portrait waiting to be painted," he says. When things start to go wrong, they don't even notice him turning up to work without a tie, unwashed and ready to cause mischief. "I am not asked about my lateness/or my appearance," he confides. "I haven't brushed my teeth."
Her (Lara Rossi) spends her days spiralling into ever deepening misery, sexually assessed by male co-workers each time she walks by. In a stark contrast to Him, when she coats her face with lipstick and ties her hair into spirals, she is told to take the afternoon off and "asked to consider how I dress for work/and the importance of good presentation". Thankfully for feminism, she doesn't take this lying down.
Dempsie is an eminently watchable actor. He is fantastic here, all inner turmoil and perfect comic timing ("Liberated by the cut phone/I suggest we flood the kitchen"). Rossi is at her febrile best towards the latter stages, when things start to really disintegrate and you see the fire within ("I turn and pull his cock/and keep pulling/until it just rips off in my hand").
Birch has created a lovely play of sharp edges, falsehoods and unsaid thoughts, twinning great humour and strong emotion throughout. There are some odd moments, such as a unsettling scene of deliberate corpsing, but these are swiftly forgotten thanks to Simon Slater's discomforting sound and music and Annelie Powell's spot on casting - you really believe that Dempsie and Rossi are together; not an easy feat to achieve. All power to this tight little team.