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The Theatreguide.London Review

The Brink
Orange Tree Theatre  Spring 2016

Mix together a paranoid conspiracy play, a schools-in-crisis play, a marital problems play, a psychic visions play and a mental breakdown play, and you get something that looks like The Brink. 

And if you try to squeeze them all into 75 minutes, you might well end up doing none of them the justice you'd wish them. 

Schoolteacher Nick has recurring nightmares of something Truly Dreadful happening at his school, and then discovers evidence that it is likely to happen in actuality. What's more, the authorities know of the danger and are keeping it secret for various honourable and dishonourable motives. 

As Nick struggles with the moral questions of going along with the cover-up, other parts of his life begin to fall apart, and ultimately he and we can not be sure how much of what is presented as reality might be his distorted vision or even delusion. 

I like a good paranoid conspiracy thriller as much as the next guy, but playwright Brad Birch's is too localised and domesticated to make us really care. 

Any tension or momentum The Brink does develop keeps being interrupted by the various other narrative and thematic strands, and the hints that it might all be in his head feel more like a cop-out than an enriching complication. 

The Brink is more earnest and ambitious than successfully structured and controlled, its multiplying ambiguities and digressions in constant danger of collapsing into chaos. 

After a while both Nick and the audience have the rug of some-sense-of-what's-going-on pulled out from under them a few times too often, and we, unlike him, have the option of losing interest. 

Director Mel Hillyard offers little guidance through the confusion and, with designer Hyemi Shin, actually compounds it. A set made up of illuminated cubes that change colour and are progressively removed suggests some symbolic significance that remains unilluminated. 

Ciaran Owens gives a fully committed and passionate performance as the tormented Nick, while Alice Haig, Vince Leigh and Shvorne Marks efficiently double and triple roles as Everyone Else.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  The Brink - Orange Tree Theatre 2016

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