Breathe, an original play written by 18-year-old George Jaques and produced by the young theatre company Athenaeum productions, sheds a light on those situations in which it isn’t enough to “just breathe”. The contemporary piece shows a crucial stage in the lives of five adolescents who are struggling both in their relationships and with some of the pressures of everyday life.
Flynn has been taking care of his brother Leo since their parents passed away. They are trying hard to live a normal life having been thrown into adulthood too early, while Leo is also facing some other demons. Jack and Emily have been together for years, but living two hours apart and Jack’s heavy mood swings are putting a strain on their relationship. Patrick is dating his 17-year-old student Sam, who is completely smitten by him – but he is starting to have doubts.
In all three relationships similar themes of anxiety, separation and the difficulty of connecting shine through. The influence of modern technology and the obsession with looks and appearances are also subtly made apparent.
The play employs some clever techniques to fade scenes into another by interlacing or repeating bits of dialogues. This helps to bridge the three different worlds, as does the fact that most actors are on stage constantly, dipping in and out of each other’s scenes to help with props, sound effects or just to watch. There are some great visual moments and interesting soundscapes that are created live on stage. More of these would have been welcome, as they provide a nice addition to an otherwise relatively text-heavy and ‘straightforward’ play.
The acting is mostly good, though some actors are noticeably stronger than others. Furthermore, some of the characters seem to have been developed more than others in the script; a bit more backstory would in some cases have helped to create more understanding of their choices. Because ultimately, what Breathe seems to want to illustrate is the fact that you never know exactly what’s going on in someone’s life.
It is a piece with lots of potential. A little tame and predictable at times, but it is also genuinely funny and occasionally touching. George Jaques is a true talent, which not only shows from his script, but also from his performance as Leo, a character he portrays with much verve. Athenaeum productions are without a doubt a bunch of new kids on the block to watch out for.
Merel van ‘t Hooft.