The Brink, White Bear Theatre – Review

Work-induced anxiety is nothing new, but when it bleeds into one’s sleep, it is certainly something that shouldn’t be ignored… Written by Brad Birch and directed by Ben Grafton, The Brink focuses on 20-something teacher Nick (Nick Thomas), whose nightmares about what he finds at his workplace chills him to the core. Having dreamt on more than one occasion about a bomb that’s detonated at his school and its ghastly aftermath, Nick is deeply perturbed. But do dreams really have a significance? And who can he trust with this vivid, disturbing vision? Chances are, speaking of this out loud will alarm others or he’ll be accused of intending to plant a bomb himself…

Nick (Nick Thomas) finds reality almost as frightening as his dream

Given the subject matter, the play could have been staged with the utmost seriousness. However, while The Brink is performed with a degree of naturalism, gallows humour permeates the narrative. Thomas’s ‘Nick’ has the hypochondriac qualities of Tony Hancock’s ‘Half-Hour’ persona, as well the dry delivery of Ben Whishaw. And as more and more people find out about ‘the dream’, Nick’s life takes on Kafkaesque qualities. What began as a search for truth takes Nick down a ‘rabbit hole’, where uncertainty begets more doubts…

Does Nick confide in a loved one, such as his girlfriend Chloe? Not completely, but that’s a tell-tale sign of the underlying problems with their relationship and her fixation with her boss’s ‘opinions’. As Chloe, Emily Carmichael conveys the frustration of a woman who hasn’t seen her life change substantially since she was a student. If Nick finds his career uninspiring, then Chloe’s ambivalence mirrors his – except it isn’t her career so much that has stagnated, as her will to stay with Nick when she realises he’s happy for their life to remain the same. While the sympathies of the audience are for the most part with Nick (and it would be easy to paint Chloe’s disclosure of Nick’s dream to all and sundry as ‘insensitive’) the fact he is ‘surprised’ by her actions when his subconscious already knows there isn’t a future for them, shows his dissonance between truth and reality.

Of course, the lack of clarity in Nick’s mind isn’t helped by Ms Boyd (Joanna Nevin). Arguably the most important person in the play after Nick, Boyd perpetuates Nick’s paranoia and confirms the ‘facts’ behind the dream. But when confronted with an modicum of ‘backbone’ from Nick, she gaslights him and adapts her rationale to accommodate his ‘facts’. Also playing Chloe’s boss Martin, Nevin as both characters gets under Nick’s skin, though for very different reasons.

Ms Boyd (Joanna Nevin) lets Nick know the precarious position he’s put himself in

On paper, Jo (Claire Durrant) is a natural ally for Nick – a teacher at the same school who’s more than ready to believe that Ms Boyd has an agenda. But when it comes to the crunch, what would she value more – speaking out against corruption or keeping her job? And without his peers or other credible adults, who can Nick turn to? Arguably the most ‘controversial’ aspect of the play is Nick’s relationship with student Jessica (also played by Emily Carmichael). She appreciates an adult being ‘honest’ with the students, but how she views her relationship with Nick versus his opinion of it aren’t necessarily in sync…

Jo + Student (Claire Durrant)

The Brink as a play has many layers to it and as such, it could be argued that its ‘meaning’ is what the audience brings to the performance. The ‘bomb’ that Nick dreams of may or may not be a literal device, but his ‘revelation’ certainly is, ‘blowing up’ the ennui of his life and of those around him. The reaction to change when there’s no choice in the matter is a frightening prospect…

© Michael Davis 2023

The Brink ran at The White Bear Theatre from 2nd to 6th May.

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