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even stillness breathes softly against a brick wallWake up. Bus to work. Office banter. Office tedium. Office misogyny. Meal deals. Emails. Calls. Customer abuse. Missing colleagues. Resentful interns. Loans. Debts. Life lost in the shuffle. An average day for an averagely content person? Or an increasingly unbearable consumerist bombardment chipping away at the soul?

Brad Birch’s challenging, thought-provoking and cumbersomely titled Even Stillness Breathes Softly Against a Brick Wall achieves much of its biting humour and pathos by hitting uncomfortably close to home. The trials of 21st-century life, from wrangling with indifferent O2 operatives to the deluge of high-priority emails, are cleverly captured in a series of acute observations, sometimes for comic effect, more often as part of a creeping modern malaise.

Lorna Ritchie’s impeccable set conjures a life that we are socially programmed to desire, based in the chic urban flat with its familiar cultural tropes: requisite Apple Mac, ironic “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster, Fifty Shades of Grey on the bedside table, The Wire box set sitting accusingly by the TV. Birch takes a similar approach with his script, which began as a poem, using lyrical fragments to evoke the status quo of two people whose churning inner lives eventually spill out in a maelstrom of anarchy.

There are potent themes here, particularly the tying of identity to transitory commodities and – in a bleak economic climate – to employment, as well as the desire to connect, whether by sardonic internet trolling or using a bigger world event as a catalyst for action. This latter thread is underdeveloped, but thematically supports the theory that every act of creation is an act of destruction. In the case of ‘Him’ and ‘Her’ (the nihilistic doppelgängers of the cheery BBC duo), the creation of new lives can only be achieved by tearing through their existential crisis with raw abandon.

even stillness breathes softly against a brick wallDirector Nadia Latif and stars Joe Dempsie (taking a break from fantastical medieval shenanigans on Game of Thrones) and Lara Rossi bravely take on the challenge of this non-naturalistic, exposing piece, in which two lovers seldom communicate directly and their conflicts are rooted in an invisible world rather than one another. This Modernist approach is at times opaque and can border on flat, but when the explosion finally occurs, with a welcome burst of physicality, it is electrifying.

Birch seems less clear about what might happen on the day after tomorrow; his build-up to rejecting the trappings of contemporary life is far more richly detailed than the aftermath. The actors, too, seem unsure of how to embody the more extreme passions, but their frank stream of communication about life’s slights, injustices and fears, the everyday sexism, the gnawing uncertainty, the gaping chasm of disconnectedness, is reliably compelling. A cynical viewpoint, perhaps, but indisputably a gripping portrait of silent desperation.

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Reviewed 01/06/13/

By Marianka Swain

28th May – 14th June 2013
Soho Theatre, London, W1.

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