This is Living is a study in fragmentation that is reminiscent of an exercise in improvisation called Space Jump, constantly jumping from one time to another and space to another with hardly a heartbeat between the transitions. A beautiful story with moments full of insights of pain and joy.
‘If you were to stand opposite the person you loved most, knowingly for the last time, what would you say?’
Alice, played by Tamla Kari in This is Living, would reply: ‘We’re irrelevant’.
Many philosophical questions like this are posed in This is Living, a play written by Liam Borrett, now in its third version and playing at Trafalgar Studio 2. Borrett felt that after a successful season at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival of 2014 there were many more layers to the two characters, Alice and her husband Michael (Michael Socha), that warranted more time to expose.
This is Living is a study in fragmentation that is reminiscent of an exercise in improvisation called Space Jump, constantly jumping from one time to another and space to another with hardly a heartbeat between the transitions. The two actors are to be commended for their ability to achieve this meaningfully as are audience members who keep up with the lightning quick changes. It can be disorienting.
Perhaps this unhinged feeling is deliberate. After all, the premise of the play concerns imbalance. Michael is found mourning at the side of his newly deceased wife Alice when she suddenly gasps out a breath and would appear to be alive. Rightfully so, he is astounded and imbalanced. It transpires that Alice has indeed died in an accident but has been kept in that space for some unknown reason and is curiously able to interact with her living spouse.
Space Jump! We see Alice and Michael at their first meeting. Space Jump! We return to the scene of the accident where everyone is coming to terms with the situation and Alice grapples with leaving her daughter. The Space Jumps seem endless.
There are many laughs between moments of extreme pathos as there tends to be when people cope with the extremes of grief. One exceptional moment is presented by Socha when he speaks to his mother’s spirit, asking her to look after Alice when she arrives in the ‘other world’. Socha has his back to the audience for this scene and it is incredibly moving, reflecting as it does a custom of many who reach out for wisdom from a parent who is no longer with them.
Kari and Socha have a palpable relationship throughout, both with each other and with the third character in the narrative, their daughter, Lily, who we don’t see but who is ever present. This is Living exposes the process of letting go in all its pain.
Liam Borrett, both writer and director, has produced a rich essay on leave-taking that has an energy and pace which tempers the distortion of the sudden shifts in time surprisingly well.
The set design of Sarah Beaton baffles a little. The floor is raised and covered with black plastic with a touch of water. Since Alice died as result of drowning from a car accident there is that connection but it means that for the entire play the actors wade, sit and roll around in water making them constantly wet. There may be a symbolic representation of tears, but it is not clear.
The majority of the play is on this waterbed and there is also a white wall upstage with doors that will clearly be used at some time. Here is the only hitch in this performance. The audience had been extremely engaged, picking up the humour and showing their appreciation and snickering at appropriate moments. Then, towards the end of the play the lights went down, and the audience, assuming the play over, applauded loudly. The blackout was to give time to open the doors in the wall for the last scene but the flow of the play had been irrevocably torn. Borren needs to find a better way to handle this.
Jackie Shemesh designed a lighting plot that was crucial in defining the changes in scenes there being few other clues that the story was moving.
This is Living contains a beautiful story with moments full of insights of pain and joy. The question is though: would that story be more or less effective if it were told with fewer Space Jumps?