Image courtesy of Andrew Perry.
To Breathe at Summerhall.
To Breathe uses physical theatre to examine “how each life breathes as it moves through cycles of being” particularly in relation to the four elements, four seasons and four humours.
The beginning of the performance is distressing with panting, screaming and huffing in quick succession – mirroring the chaotic trauma of childbirth. It becomes a little calmer, with interjections of childishness, sensuality and fear. The overall effect is somewhat tiring and occasionally a little repetitive. Whilst the repetition has a recognisable purpose – mimicking the repetitive nature of every breath of each organism – it goes on for far longer than needed to highlight this. However, the acting and directing is, on the whole, admirable and should be commended.
There are mesmerising moments of true beauty and amongst the strange and disconcerting. One particular sequence, in which one of the performers follows several flames around the room all at once and becomes increasingly frantic in their desperation to catch the fire, was fascinating. The sequence was able to bring out the childish side of the audience as they followed the flames with her and began to ‘ooh’, ‘ahh’ and ‘giggle’ at her journey around the stage.
Although there were no characters as such, each of the six cast members has a distinctive role in the group, taking it in turn to be the focus for a particular sequence. There were also sequences in which the group huddle and become a synchronised unit of rhythm. These were equally beautiful, exuding almost tangible emotion.
It has to be said that physical theatre is often deemed a risky genre. It can be dismissed as too bizarre and too contemporary for the everyday person’s tastes. While this play does not disprove this stigma, the themes on which it focuses ensure that To Breathe is unavoidably relatable. Whilst it will not have universal appeal, it is still worth watching.