After I sadly had to miss seeing Maxine Peake’s Hamlet live in Manchester last autumn due to my accident, I wasn’t intending to miss seeing such a great actress on stage in this new play at the Royal Court Theatre, but as good as she is in the production, I sadly didn’t particularly enjoy it.
In Zinnie Harris’s new play, Peake plays Dana, an independent woman, who has had a one night stand with a man she has met in a bar. All seems normal until he proceeds to try and pay her 45 Euros, thinking she is a prostitute! Not ideal for any woman! Dana refuses his money, which leads to his revelation that he is actually a demon/God and that he cannot have debts. She, like us, thinks this is clearly ridiculous and ridicules his attitude. She won’t ever need his money and he won’t be able to trick her in to accepting it either! However, as the story moves forward, she starts to doubt whether his claims were just a joke.
What follows is almost two hours in which we follow Dana and her pregnant sister, as they attempt to reach North Africa, coinciding with the collapse of the Eurozone and the difficulties that causes for European citizens trying to leave to escape the fallout (which may or may not be the fault of the demon). There are some interesting “what if” scenarios as to what could happen if such an event were to happen, but for me it was just too boring and to some extent repetitive, for example, the 45 Euros figure crops up again and again.
Peake is very very good, bringing the character to life and highlighting both her strength and also vulnerability (principally caused by her love for her sister, for whom she will do anything). However, this was just too weird and darkly miserable for me. Michael Schaeffer (last seen as the creepy Mr Burns at the Almeida) is good as the creepy “demon” and there’s an amusing role for Peter Forbes, as the librarian figure, possibly signifying God or a guardian angel, who is always at hand to offer Dana a ridiculously titled self help book. I see that this play is aiming to make us think about deeper issues of our materialistic attitude to the world, but I just couldn’t enjoy it. It was just too dismal for me and the story began to bore me, until I found myself really not caring whether Dana and her sister reached their destination or not.
It’s certainly not a play I’d recommend, unless you simply go for Maxine Peake. For me she was the saving grace of a dismal, dull two hours.
How To Hold Your Breath continues at the Royal Court Theatre until 21st March 2015. More information can be found here.