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|A CurtainUp London Review
How to Hold Your Breath
"I am a nightmare, an underpass in the dark, an alleyway, a bridge that you don't cross"
Zinnie Harris' play starts well. It's set in Berlin. Maxine Peake plays Dana who has met a man she fancies in a bar, Jarron (Michael Shaeffer), and brought him home. She notices the scar on his chest. He says that it is where they ripped out his soul and she interprets this as a joke. Except that his semen is black and he insists on paying her for the sex. She is offended and refuses. But then he announces that he is a demon and he will find away of giving her the 45 Euros he thinks he owes her and that she eventually will beg him to pay her. From his conversation, it is as if we are living in a society where sex is a commodity and has to be paid for. Almost immediately Dana notices that she has a rash on her breasts which she thinks it is a hickey or love bite.
Maxine Peake as Dana (Photo: Manuel Harlan)
A specialist in modelling Customer Dynamics, a marketing tool for commercial organisations to tap into their customers'emotions, intents and desires Dana goes to an interview for a research grant wearing her sister Jasmine's (Christine Bottomley) shirt and shoes. After her interview which is a near disaster she goes into a library and asks for books on demons. The quirky librarian (Peter Forbes), who reappears after several scenes, is a mixture of information and rigid rule keeping who provides comic amusement. His library shelves are stocked with "How to. . ." books for every conceivable situation.
Dana and pregnant Jasmine set out for the second part of Dana's interview in Alexandria. Europe is disintegrating economically and credit cards are refused, the ATMs don't work and the banks are shut but Africa is the new booming economy.
At two hours without an interval, the play starts to tire during the second hour as Dana turns from professional, capable graduate to a helpless economic migrant. However, Maxine Peake is always interesting to watch with her expressive face and ability to draw you in. Chloe Lamford's set starts to slope as all the future slides away and is very effective. How to Hold Your Breath is dystopian magic realism with darker than dark edges. Not all of it may work but it is worth the journey.
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|How to Hold Your Breath
Written by Zinnie Harris
Directed by Vicky Featherstone
Starring : Maxine Peake, Michael Shaeffer, Christine Bottomley, Peter Forbes
With: Danusia Samal, Siobhan McSweeney, Neil D'Souza
Designer: Chloe Lamford
Lighting: Paule Constable
Composer: Stuart Earl
Sound: Gareth Fry
Movement Director: Ann Yee
Running time: Two hours without an interval
Box Office 020 7565 5000
Booking to 21st March 2015
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 10th February 2015 performance at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, Sloane Square, London SW1 W 8AS (Tube: Sloane Square)
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