Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Edinburgh Fringe: 'Brutal Cessation' at the Assembly George Square Theatre, 7th August 2017

Brutal Cessation reviewed by David James

Rating: 2 Stars

Brutal Cessation has one absolutely amazing scene. In it an unnamed woman (Lydia Larson) describes her deepest fantasy to her partner (Alan Mahon). In graphic detail she explains how she wants to sit him at a table, smash his teeth out, sever his jaw, crack open his skull and mash his brain out of his nose with a hammer. Larson delivers this with a barely concealed psychotic glee, her eyes rolling around in her head like snooker balls as she loses herself in the sadistic fantasy. 

Meanwhile, her bewildered boyfriend stares on, only pausing to ask why she thinks he would consent to this without protesting or even screaming in pain. When your girlfriend tells you she wants to make an omelette with your brains, you should probably hear big red alarm bells ringing in your ears. But he doesn't, passively sitting there, looking strangely blasé about the whole thing. Regardless, their spaghetti dinner is ruined.

It had me on the edge of my seat, not sure whether to laugh, puke, or some lumpy combination of the two. And, surely, when you have a character expound at great length on her bloodthirsty impulses, a dramatic end can't be far away, right?

Well apparently it can, because the rest of Brutal Cessation is a load of bollocks. The play proceeds to degenerate into a looping abstract mishmash in which the characters exchange roles in scenes we've previously seen and repeat in on themselves in fractal loops until the play ends with nothing resolved. It's not like I don't have the stomach for screwing with the mechanics of theatre and playwriting, but Brutal Cessation feels less like a productive narrative experiment and more like the deadline for turning in the script was up and the playwright had other projects to be getting on with. 

It's a crushing waste of potential, egregiously so in the case of Lydia Larson. She was the bees knees in Skin A Cat at The Bunker last October and for at least part of Brutal Cessation looks set to equal or even surpass that role. Her unnamed character is positively magnetic, a performance covered in a thousand hairline cracks that conceals something... not right. When she's in full head-crackin' flow I couldn't take my eyes off her - silently thinking that this is the kind of acting they give awards to. But then *poof* whatever she had going on is squandered in the wanky deconstruction.

I know Milly Thomas is a talented playwright: I enjoyed Clickbait and I'm looking forward to seeing Dust on Wednesday. But Brutal Cessation is one outstanding ten minute scene surrounded by an awful lot of chaff. It proves that it's more painful to see a play flirt with excellence and piss it away than one that's completely beyond redemption. 

Brutal Cessation is at the Assembly George Square Theatre Aug 8-13, 15-28. Tickets here.

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