It’s a sign of the financially stark times that artists are currently navigating through, when a play written by an Olivier Award winning playwright is produced without any funding or financial remuneration for creative team. In this case, the cast is made up of a group of young actors from a local community drama class who have taken up the opportunity to launch their careers on the boards of the creative hub that is the Bussey Building.
Paul is distraught. His friend Donovan died following a club brawl that ensued over Paul’s girlfriend Candy. Under the advice of Paul’s sister Hazel, Candy devises a plan to use sex as a distraction and bargaining chip to prevent him from enacting vengeance against the perpetrators. It’s a drastic ploy which she cajoles her friends Natalie and April into using against their own unknowing boyfriends, Ryan and Andrew, respectively; teasing them to the edge of their frustration in the desperate hope of keeping them from harm.
The manipulative sexual politics at play here have been inspired by the Greek comedy Lysistrata, in which the women of ancient Greece hatch a plan to withhold sex from the soldiers until a peace treaty is agreed. It’s a troubling and simplistic act of empowerment, which doesn’t delve into the complexities of the relationships or situation these young people find themselves in.
That aside, there are moments in the play which are entirely engrossing and relevant. When Ryan uncovers the plot behind his sexual frustration, he rages into a misogynistic attack on Candy; blaming female attire for provoking male reactions. It’s one of the meatier segments of the play that’s calling out to be ripened.
Hazel’s character could also benefit from further development. Abandoned by her father, she’s fiercely independent and consumed by the gender roles that are characterised by pop psychology. There’s a sparky exchange between Hazel and her boyfriend Charles, in which neither can compromise. It’s the archetypal scenario between a couple, when communication becomes the unknown entity that prevents shared enlightenment on issues such as sex and commitment. Their exchange rouses an interest in her character, which is left unfulfilled.
Scenes are relayed across four stages, with the audience shuffling on seats to meet the lights that switch between them. Agbaje writes distinctive tags of youth into the play; Natalie speaking in hashtags being one, whilst Toby Clarke ensures the play maintains its heartbeat in the scene changes. Take a Deep Breath and Breathe is a play that offers seeds of promise, but needs to burrow into the narrative and themes that define it.
Take a Deep Breath and Breathe, THE CLF Art Café (The Bussey Building)