[Reviewed for WeLoveBrighton.com]
Madam Renards & TS Theatre present ‘To Sleep’ at The Marlborough Theatre, Brighton. Two strangers slowly and subtly bond during a night in A&E. She’s a brash and cocky seventeen year old girl. He’s a worn out middle-aged man. Both are bleeding from the wrists. Both have failed their attempts at a final goodbye. Although at theirlowest points in life, an unexpected and unusual friendship blossoms between the pair, as they both look for a way out of the world. Covering one night in the lives of two star-crossed suicidals, ‘To Sleep’ is a new play by Matt Fox, which explores how people deal with the most difficult human situations and how relationships can develop between different people no matter how appalling their shared experiences might be.
Let’s start with the negatives and get them out the way. Firstly, the acting in the first twenty of the sixty minutesis a little bit wooden. At times, lines are just said without much thought or connection to the text. However, I believe there are two fair and just reasons for this:
During the first crucial minutes of the play, an audience member became unwell and collapsed in front of the stage. This may have momentarily thrown the cast off track (and fair dos)… but, to their credit, the actors handled the event with the utmost professionalism and were back on form within minutes of the incident.
The writing in that first scene isn’t particularly actor-friendly…
…By which I mean; it must have been quite difficult for the actors to breathe truth into the scenario, as striking up conversation in an A&E waiting room is probably a seldom occurrence and one that’s tricky to fathom; plus it’shard to believe that failed-suicidals would feel particularly chatty on the night of their demise. That’s not to say that it can’t be done, but I think Fox’s script lacks a certain degree of subtlety at the very beginning of the play.
As a previous NHS employee, I’m pretty sure suicide-wannabes wouldn’t be left to their own devices immediately after having their wrists stitched back together. They’d probably be under observation or something. Whereas, these two lost lambs seem to be having a chin-wag in the reception area… (unless they’re in a ward in which case the staging isn’t clear), but not a regular ‘have you been waiting long?’ conversation… no, this particular chat is about Stanley knife versus kitchen knife. It is for this reason that the writing in the first scene just doesn’t work as well as it could. I know it’s a piece of theatre and that imagination is required but the opening doesn’t flow or feel particularly natural (which I believe is the playwright’s intention). It is, therefore, a challenge on the audience’s part to suspend disbelief and engage with the characters.
In addition, some of the direction is a bit clumsy. There’s a moment when Hayley (Ellie Lawrence) “sees” the burns on Martin’s (Peter Hynds) back and comments accordingly – but Martin’s back is nowhere near her line of vision.
Saying that, after the first scene, things pick up. Suddenly Hynds and Lawrence come into their own and thechemistry between the pair develops. There are some genuinely poignant and moving moments and we can sense a real connection between the characters, despite the unlikeness of their friendship – which makes it even more beautiful to witness.
Despite dealing with the rather depressing theme of suicide, the tragedy is laced with dark comedy and there are some cracking lines in there that are well delivered. Fox boldly deals with the practicalities of ending a lifeand there are some gems in the script that prompt many a wry smile and guilty giggle, including:
‘Suicide is more acceptable than f*cking a minor’
‘You’re thirty-nine years old, no wonder you want to kill yourself, you’re nearly forty!’
‘Dear Unfortunate Corpse Finder…’
‘I don’t want to be found with a c*nt-full of jiz anyway’ (yes, that is an actual line).
Despite missing the mark somewhat, this hour long play is bound to get you thinking about life, about relationships and about the absurdity of our fragility.