It’s always difficult to know what to write about a production that is brilliant from start to finish. Brink is a well-honed show, technically precise in a way that doesn’t prevent you from being utterly taken by in it. If it faltered at any point, I can no longer remember. But its quality is so consistent that I barely know which points to emphasise.
One might as well start with the opening movement sequence. The actors all gradually weave their way into what cannot fairly be described as a dance. There’s a more acute sense of interaction and individual purpose; characters mime touching each other (sometimes hitting, sometimes caressing, sometimes somewhere between), flowed effortlessly out of collective movements and into individual ones. These interludes, set to subtly evolving music, continue throughout, a beautifully evocative depiction of the violence of need and desire that underscores the whole show. The gestures are sharp and inelegant without being clumsy, packed with the raw energy and instinct for pace that will seem familiar to anyone who has seen a Christine and the Queens’ music video. Movement consultant Emily Everest Phillips deserves high praise for her choreography, as do the actors for carrying it out with such surety; tempo changes are handled flawlessly, and even the usually clunky movement of one actor helping clothe another doesn’t even manage to break the flow.
Outside of these choral sequences, each actor has their own series of monologues or near monologues to handle, each playing a different character on the ‘brink’, people left out, pushed to the side, neglected. Alone, or at least, lonely. Hannah Taylor is most moving as a teenage girl, always on edge and giving the sense of having her shoulders hunched even when she doesn’t. Trying to escape, at least mentally, the violence of her home, she looks for beauty in parakeets and sex. Emma Howlett’s Stephanie is a wonderfully understated portrayal of a mother and wife who no longer really feels like either of those things. Watching plane crashes on YouTube at night, she displays the same barely held restraint as when her daughter slaps her and laughs.
Julia Pilkington and Lee Simmonds both infuse a subtle comedy into their parts to balance out the distressing reality of their stereotypes; the mad lady down the road and the office stooge, respectively. There are points where actors perhaps failed to give their characters real depth, but this does little to detract because of the vignette structure of the show – for Stephanie and Felix in particular, one gets more an impression of their lives than the story of them. But this is a show that requires technical precision from all its cast – the difficult job of calling up with your eyes someone who isn’t there, the constant attention required from a chorus always on stage, the ability to provide your own pace in long monologues – and in these areas, the standard is always extremely high.
The script is, in the best of ways, barely noticeable. The flitting between characters always feels balanced. Poetic contrasts like ‘I didn’t know her name. I didn’t ask her name’ and the (perhaps slightly less poetic) reference to a fox who likes ‘free range chicken and free range children’ were carried off believably, and sparse but fitting mannerisms integrated beautifully with speech patterns that were subtly flavoured with the tone of each character, rather than overly stylised.
Brink is powerful, but in unusual ways. It doesn’t fully immerse you in one person’s life. The characters could all easily have sob stories but the play doesn’t care to emphasise them. It conjures the atmosphere of loneliness, the state of being on the outside of things, but never tells us how to fix things – instead, the most vicious tragedy is in the fact that the characters are ‘completely normal,’ just like everyone else.