Tuesday, 7 August 2012

The Fear of Breathing

Last week the other half and I went to a fascinating play at the lovely Finborough Theatre by Earl's Court in London. And firstly, I must say what a great location the Finborough is. Intimate doesn't even begin to describe it. Tucked away above a wine bar in a residential neighborhood, the theatre is a blackbox with (as I discovered this visit) moveable seating. When I first visited the Finborough to see Don Juan Comes Back from the War a couple of months ago, the seats were positioned on three sides of the stage, but for The Fear of Breathing, it was a more traditional set-up. The stage and creative teams really use the unique space, nestled in the tip of a corner building to amazing effect and with limited seating, you're never more than a few rows back from the action.

The Fear of Breathing brings to life the current war in Syria, but in an amazing creative twist, this production bridges traditional drama and new journalism. In fact, this play has no playwright. It has an editor. Zoe Lafferty has cut together real interviews with people on the Syrian frontlines that she conducted along with Ruth Sherlock and Paul Wood. The result is a visceral, intense experience of a current event told in the verbatim words of the people living it today.
The Fear of Breathing - Finborough Theatre.
From the excitement of the first days of a youth revolution to excruciating scenes of torture, The Fear of Breathing doesn't shy away from the tough topics and the actors are extraordinary. The young actor who is tortured on stage is particularly compelling and the staging is incredible, so well-done that the scene is difficult to watch. An audience member behind us actually began sobbing and did not return for the second act. This is a testament to the bravery of everyone involved, from the Syrians who spoke out to reporters who went undercover to the actors and team at the Finborough who have committed themselves to telling every part of the stories.

All that being said, there are a couple of thoughts that keep nagging at me about this production. The first is that they have television screens across the stage walls that show footage of Syria before the two acts. A very interesting use of modern media, but in between each shot, they flash "snow" with the accompanying sound. Some of my readers may not even be old enough to remember "snow" on the television, but those of us that do, recall that the sound was one of the most annoying sounds ever. It recurs every couple of seconds ad naseum both before the show and through the entire intermission. There isn't assigned seating at the Finborough, so we ended up listening to snow for 20 minutes. On a less whiny note, the "snow" seemed out of date given that this is a play about a revolution in which new media like Facebook played a crucial role.

The only other note that didn't quite ring true was at the very end. The play suddenly felt that it had become a bit didactic as one of the actors told the audience in a five minute rant that we would go back to our lives as though they weren't dying in Syria, but they would still be there. Any audience that goes to see a play like this is most likely a politically informed one and doesn't need to be talked down to. I felt as though I was suddenly getting a lecture and it actually left a bad taste in my mouth.

All in all, though, the creative combination of journalism and drama overshadows any minor flaws. This is a production unlike any other and one that brings to life a conflict that can feel very distant. I can only recommend it highly. It's on until this Saturday, 11 August. Click here for tickets.

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