Liam Borrett’s debut play, This Is Living, is a two-hander between husband & wife, Michael & Alice. It began life four years ago as a seven-minute piece, which then went through rounds of drafts, workshops and a trial run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2014, being re-worked before making its West End première at Trafalgar Studios.
The play follows Alice & Michael’s attempts to say goodbye – as Alice has just died, leaving Michael & their daughter (Lily) behind. Both struggle to cope, each trying to make the other understand what it’s like in their position. What we also see are the highs & lows of their life together, from the first moment they met, to the last big turning point in the relationship. It plays out as a series of flashbacks interspersed with scenes in the present. As a result it can be a bit disorientating at times, chopping straight from a laugh-out-loud moment to the stark reality of Alice’s passing. At other points they have sad memories, making everything doubly serious. This structure does well in really accentuating every drop of emotion the pair are going through; the lighter & darker moments (in past & present) complementing each other expertly.
I would argue that an interval isn’t required; as much as it does build to a dramatic pause, inevitably some of the emotional momentum is lost. With a show running time of 90 minutes, breaking for 15 more seems unnecessary – the piece would have an even bigger impact if it ran straight through.
In setting the play on a wet, tarpaulined, thrust stage, the reality is omnipresent. Until the very end, this is pretty much all the actors have at their disposal – making the play the focus rather than anything going on around it. Jackie Shemesh’s lighting design is clever, in that it is more subtle in the present, bringing some continuity to assist the audience. There is much more free reign for the flashbacks, depending on the scenario. The sound design (Sean Gallagher) comes into play here too; a particularly good example being the lead-up to the event preceding the interval, as the music builds to a crescendo and it blacks out. It may be a piece of pop music, but it’s suggestively chosen – and the volume increase is overwhelming & pertinent.
Two brilliant & emotive actors have been cast in this play.
Michael Socha’s performance has an emotional integrity to it; his monologue towards the end of the play is particularly affecting. Socha is also adept at the lighter moments, early on giving his character an innocent & optimistic outlook on life. His personality visibly develops as the play goes on. It is impossible not to feel for him as he struggles through.
Alice is naturally quite a vivacious character, and Tamla Kari plays this with a lot of confidence. However, she undergoes two transformations: in life and in death. As she is knocked back by the challenges she faces, Alice retreats into herself – and slowly fades as her funeral approaches. Kari’s portrayal of her traumatising ordeal at the end of the first act is heartbreaking, but in stark contrast it’s tears of joy she induces as Alice & Michael revisit one of the happiest memories in their relationship as the play draws to a close. It truly is a remarkable turn from Kari that will live long in the memories of everyone who sees it.
My verdict? A dark & moving play that tugs at the heartstrings and makes you think – get there while you can, but hopefully this isn’t the last we’ve seen of it.
This Is Living runs at Trafalgar Studios 2 until 11 June 2016. Tickets are available online and from the box office.