★★★★ | This Is Living

Alice and Michael are soaking wet and alone in a field by a river at night. Alice can’t remember what bought them there and wants to go home. The problem is that Alice can’t go back again and the big question is what bought them to this point.

CREDIT: Alex Harvey-Brown

 

Liam Borrett’s exploration of grief and loss is very impressive. The real achievement isn’t the story itself or the dissection of the aftermath of tragedy but in the characterisation. Alice and Michael are a couple in their late twenties, married with a young daughter. You almost certainly know them. Alice is outspoken, wilful and brimming with unrealised ambition. Michael is a little gauche and awkward and completely in awe of Alice. Michael Socha (E4’s Aliens, This Is England, Being Human) and Tamla Kari (The Inbetweener’s Movie, The Musketeers) are remarkably good and both give robust and forceful performances.

We see their lives together through a series of potent and cleverly inter-cut flashbacks: their clumsy first meeting on a bus via drunken nights and bad dancing after a lot of Echo Falls, through to the news that Alice is carrying the baby that Michael so desperately wanted. The beauty of the characters is how familiar and ordinary they feel and the celebration of how seemingly ordinary people have extraordinary traits and fascinating stories within the routine of daily life. Sarah Beaton’s waterlogged set leaves the viewer feeling cold and damp and clever sound and lighting design allows for the brisk flow back and forth between past and present.

The play has a lot of funny moments and Kari’s depiction of Alice’s seemingly brash Northern charm complements Socha’s devastating but understated portrayal of Michael’s ungainliness. The script is tight with a few minor slack moments. The painful subject matter is depicted with charm and grace and rarely feels unbearable but is still devastating and painful to watch.

The play seemed to initially lose focus slightly after the interval but soon regained the mood and may perhaps have been carried better as a one-act piece. Nevertheless, this is an incredibly powerful piece of theatre and a chance to see two very talented actors realise the potential of a beautiful script. This is also Socha’s West End debut. He stated in a recent interview that he was feeling nervous. He needn’t have worried.

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This Is Living plays at The Trafalgar Studios until 11th June

 

@chrisb715