"Elegant and stylish grief exploration"
by Rachel Knightley for remotegoat on 20/05/16

Writer-director Liam Borrett’s This Is Living started life as a seven-minute piece asking ‘How do you say goodbye?’ and ‘What you would say if you knew you were standing in front of the person you loved for the last time?’ It is now a two-act play in which these questions are not asked clearly enough. Insufficient script-editing has caused lack of narrative clarity, and physically and emotionally repetitive scenes – in which Tamla Kari finds admirable depth and variety as the unquietly dead ‘Alice Moon’. Script problems are addressed by an overreliance on effects and soundtrack that compete with the action as often as they save it.

The visual pull of Sarah Beaton’s black, stagnant pool of a platform stage provides an elegant metaphor for the grief and guilt that waterlog lives. Unfortunately, the action isn’t strong enough to hold its own against the literal waterlogging of the actors. A white wall-mounted flat behind the platform is barely used, with the last-minute reveal of a bed scene in act two’s final moments an underpayment on how much audience attention has been pulled throughout.

Tamla Kari (Alice) fashions a shape and depth to the action which the text did not hand her, and maintains a great connection to her character. She has a likeable opposite in Michael Socha who copes well in what is not an easy ride of a west-end debut. He copes less well with the northern accent, however, and it would have been a kinder directorial decision to go with his own. Instead, his struggle compromises the play’s reality and his own confidence. Point of view issues abound too: from the very name of his wife to their underwritten, unseen child, this does not feel like the mind of a man whose life’s focus, we are repeatedly told, is fatherhood.

Atmospherically, this production creates the world it needs to. That it carries the audience is a great compliment to the execution of the script by the cast. Still, the ‘leaky fourth wall’ element undermines the universe the main set establishes, and the actors are forced to sustain emotional momentum through this circular purgatory of diminishing returns. The play not only robs itself of emotional climax through repetition but, most frustratingly, feels like it’s muffling the voice of a very good, probably one-act play waiting to happen. It’s been picked up by Nick Hearn Books, though, so it’ll be interesting to see how, on page if not on this particular stage, it does ask the questions it claims and rises above being an idealized perspective on one lost love.

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