Don't look down: image via royalexchange.co.uk
Don’t look down: image via royalexchange.co.uk

Written by Jackie Kay and Royal Exchange Theatre Young Company
Directed by Matthew Xia
Royal Exchange Studio
Thursday 26th-Sunday 29th March 2015

What’s it like to stand on the edge? It’s something young people know all about, poised as they are between childhood and adulthood, on the threshold of so many important changes and decisions. Brink, written collaboratively by Jackie Kay and the Royal Exchange Theatre Young Company, sees a cast of 20 young people explore the idea of those existential edges – the points of no return that everyone passes through en route to maturity.

The set is a barren island of blue mottled blocks – a cold, angled world. We’re in an interim place: young people in crucial moments find themselves here, shoved through the door and, surrounded by other conflicted teens, coaxed or forced to share what’s eating them. We run the gamut. A lovelorn girl stands on a cliff’s edge; a boy has just been thrown out of home for being gay; a timid girl clutching a dolly talks of a violent past; one lad is too afraid to ask out a girl he likes… The only trouble with these multifarious episodes is that sometimes the titular “brink” isn’t a strong enough theme to tie so many stories together.

But each character’s struggle is well-fleshed and -performed, with some standout roles. An exasperated girl who’s been waiting here so long that she’s forgotten why she came eventually tells us, in a confident song backed by other cast members, that she struggles to negotiate her own vulnerability. “Leave the gate to your soul unlatched, leave the curtain of your heart pulled back,” she sings. Another powerful performance comes from a Zimbabwean girl who talks, sings, beatboxes and dances her story of immigration and integration.

The music is the most impressive facet of this enjoyable production – the large cast make a powerful noise together in several songs, often accompanied by members of their own number. Another strong element is the movement – the talking is interspersed with times when words just aren’t enough, and repeated movements copied frantically between the actors who crowd the stage convey the universally familiar stress of “brinking it”.

However, the concept of the production wears a little thin over 75 minutes, as each brinker is embroiled in their own problems – we see brief flashes of connection between the actors, but nothing much like a dialogue. At times a polyphonic, poetic approach to the theme simply turns into 20 people earnestly spouting clichés at the audience (“you will get through this”). Further, the stakes never feel especially high: even the depressed, half-suicidal and homeless brinkers’ stories don’t bring a great deal of darkness to the piece. But if the show could afford to feel a little more focussed or to go a little deeper, nonetheless it is engaging to watch and the young company should be proud of the unity and clarity of their performances.

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