'Brenda' by E V Crowe at The Yard Theatre - REVIEW

Alison O'Donnell in Brenda by EV Crowe

Fresh from this year’s HighTide Festival, E V Crowe’s new play BRENDA lands at Hackney Wick’s ever venturesome, The Yard Theatre.

This play begins almost before you realise; Alison O’Donnell’s Brenda enters onto the stage with house lights up, and proceeds for the first few minutes in complete silence. She is looking for Robert (Jack Tarlton), who eventually appears. They are waiting for the start of a ‘Community Action Group’ during which they are due to ask for help to improve their untenable work and living conditions. Robert tells us he always used to hate the idea of community, but now confesses,

"The idea that some people from where we live are going to come physically here and listen to us…. Sitting next to someone. It never happens. You can feel the heat coming off them. Both sides. We never all sit next to each other. Real people… Makes me feel something"

Brenda, however, doesn’t think she’s a person at all. She can’t even bring herself to say her own name on the microphone when Robert suggests they practise their introduction to the group. She has also traipsed in some black dirt on her shoes, which she denies to Robert. He attempts to brush the dirty footprints away, only to leave larger black stains with the broom. The black appears later on the wall and microphone wires, leaving marks on hands and clothes, like a metaphorical cancer spreading through their relationship.

There is a clownish, naivety to O’Donnell’s Brenda, one which at first suggests a vulnerability, but later begins to feel less like naivety and more like indifference; both towards Robert, and towards the life they are building together. O’Donnell allows herself to be present and unafraid of silences. This ‘liveness’ only serves to underline the strange freedom Brenda appears to take when she decides to stop pretending.

In contrast, Tarlton’s Robert appears to be highly-strung, strung-out even… there is a quiet desperation which seeps into every exchange with Brenda. Even during his agitated but albeit very amusing, rendition of Bowie’s Starman, we see his anxiousness to hold on to the threads of the persona he has built – he was in a band for a day so learnt a lot about performing, he tells us.

This play is an audacious effort from both the writer (Crowe), and director (Caitlin McLeod) to explore discourses around humanity in the face of deprivation, identity as social construct, and how these ideas impact on our interactions with others. There are moments of real magic (no spoilers, but they are there). Equally, there were some moments that did not feel fully explored and a little surplus to requirements (the text and phone call to Robert from a woman called Tina, for example). However, the 70 minutes crack along, keeping you guessing from beginning to end and the play certainly leaves its mark.

Early on, Brenda tells Robert that a rat had caught its tail in the rodent trap at home. When Robert asks her what happened to it next, she tells us that the rat dragged the trap around for while and then gnawed its own tail off to escape. By the end of the play, one can’t help wondering if Brenda hasn’t more in common with the rat than first appeared.

(c) 2015 Madelaine Moore

Reviewed on 25th Sep 2015

BRENDA is playing at The Yard Theatre until 17th October


Alison O'Donnell
Jack Tarlton


Writer - E V Crowe
Director - Caitlin McLeod
Designer - James Turner
Lighting Designer - Richard Williamson
Sound Designer - David Gregory

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