Brink is a collaboration between writer Jackie Kay and the Royal Exchange’s young company – a group of performers, writers, designers and communicators aged 14-21. The title is translated as ‘when the edge is close and you’re close to the edge,’ an apt theme for a young theatre group on the brink of adulthood. What makes the fairly commonplace themes of change and decision interesting is the transformation of a state of mind into an actual, physical place. One by one, the large cast of performers burst through a door onto the stage and reveal their reasons for arriving at The Brink.
The Royal Exchange’s intimate studio space is the perfect setting for this piece, echoing the claustrophobic feeling of The Brink – the characters are mentally and emotionally restricted by the pressures of decision-making. This is also replicated in the way the large cast crowds the stage and the surrounding floor, squeezing themselves into corners and through tunnels. The set design has a suitably cosmic feel, with a blue, star-splattered backdrop and illuminated grid lines reminiscent of the National Theatre’s Curious Incident. Large, moveable cubes provide a second level for the action, a physical brink for characters to stand on the edge of.
Brink is very much an ensemble piece, with songs, movement sequences and chorus speeches to illustrate the characters’ shared experience (and the cast’s range of talents). However, some characters are more fleshed out than others, delivering monologues that give them specific identities and brinking moments. There’s Nina, driven to the edge by her depression; Bridie, on the verge of losing her beloved grandmother; and Pablo, who struggles to come out to his parents. These characters involve the audience with convincing voices, but there are plenty of other brinkers who we learn very little or nothing about, but perhaps this is down to time constraints. There are also two Brinkmasters, who give the piece some structure as they introduce The Brink and enter into dialogue with the characters – they also develop, initially seeming to cruelly revel in their control but ultimately showing compassion by helping the brinkers to take the plunge. Overall though, I do feel that Brink lacks a certain impetus or feeling of progression. While it is present in individual characters’ stories, in general the group sections seem very similar throughout. Perhaps this is intentional – as one Brinkmaster observes, brinking is a never-ending cycle throughout life, and The Brink is never empty.
At the end, most of the main characters pick themselves up, overcome their problems and leave The Brink. Others – particularly the chorus – are left in a state of limbo, just as they started. This gives the piece a welcome touch of realism and maturity, counteracting what could be Disney-esque optimism to create a real feeling of poignancy.
I saw Brink with Lizz C – you can read her review here.