Karen and I were looking for something to do last night, and I stumbled upon a play being put on by South Street’s company-in-residence called “Be Brave and Leave for the Unknown”. Let’s give it a try, we thought, and tickets were duly purchased.
Very few seats were still left in the auditorium when we arrived, and it was looking like we might have to ask some people in the front row to shuffle along to create a two-seat space, but it didn’t come to that, and we seated ourselves towards the back, and looked down upon a sparsely-furnished stage, the only points of focus being a large oval table and a large circular diffused light on the wall, both of which turned out to be cleverly deployed throughout the show for manifold purposes.
A warm-up man took the stage, calculatedly nervous, and a small element of audience participation had us all terrified that we might be next, but thankfully it was just an isolated incident. The play began in earnest, the warm-up man now taking on the role of a concert pianist, and we were introduced to the other protagonist, a wartime photographer. A romance soon blossoms between the two, and the chemistry between the actors is compelling. These two are the only physical actors to ever take the stage, though later on in the play they do take brief stints as minor characters, and there are also other moments where “invisible” characters are used, but it never feels awkward.
It didn’t take too long before I started to wonder what the heck all this had to do with bravery. It felt a bit directionless and a bit disjointed, at its core just a bunch of fairly ordinary stuff happening to some fairly ordinary people with no apparent purpose, so I tried not to think about that too much, and instead just soak up the clever use of the minimal props available. A jug of water, in particular, is used to great effect, representing many different things, but at the same time representing only one specific thing.
Eventually, things take a turn. A tricky question is raised – if the big plot twist is liable to cause upset, should there be a warning in advance – a “trigger warning” as Karen described it afterwards. Neither of us had seen it coming, but if there’d been a big bold paragraph on the poster that said “WARNING: THEIR BABY DIES AND THEN THEY HAVE A BREAKDOWN” then that would have lessened the impact greatly.
Walking out of the theatre afterwards, my initial reaction was one of some confusion. Not about what happened, there was no David Lynch-esque obfuscation or anything like that, but rather why. What was the point of the story? What was the moral? Was there even meant to be a moral? And I suppose the answer to that is the moral isn’t within the play but within the title. If you didn’t know that it was supposed to be a play about bravery, then all you’d see is some clever propwork and choreography. But the title sets you a homework assignment – to identify the acts of bravery. In many ways, the minor (and invisible) characters are easiest to deconstruct. They’re only on stage for a few minutes each, so their actions are fairly well signposted. But the two lead characters are slightly trickier because you are so much more invested in their stories, it’s hard to take a step back and look at them with an analytical eye.
If you’re interested in seeing this play (even after I’ve spoiled the big twist for you), and you can get to Reading for this evening, then there might still be some tickets available, but you should definitely book beforehand, because last night was a full house.