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Brutal honesty & perverse pleasure

Review: Antifragile, Hold Your Breath (Count to Ten) ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 26 April ·
Review by Steven Cohen ·

One of the most challenging theatrical feats is successfully putting on stage a psychotherapy session, because of the vulnerability it exposes. Add water, a-play-about-a-play, a double dose of realism, all fuelled by thespian vanity and you have the makings of a rousing commentary about living life at the edge of one’s mind.

Hold Your Breath (Count to Ten) (and don’t forget the parentheses) is not just a play about a play, but a self-referential drama focusing on the palpable experiences of living with mental illness, while trying to make sense of it through art. A two-hander, it’s presented by local theatre ensemble, Antifragile.

Writer and actor Daley King and director Susie Conte, together with an illustrious creative team (set designer Sara Chirichilli, lighting designer Scott McArdle, projection designer George Ashforth and composer/sound designer Joe Lui), construct a fascinating and highly entertaining foray into the complex relationship between mental illness, life and art. And – in yet another layer – humorously reflect King’s own editing processes.

Hold Your Breath (Count to Ten)
The blocking works a treat on Sarah Chirichilli’s starkly minimalist antique bathroom and mirror set. Pictured: Daley King and Amy Murray. Photo: Cinzia Napolitano.

King plays himself, Daley, the somewhat sensitive artist who ruminates on how to make sense of his tortured 24 years. Regular theatre goers will have heard it all before: from Equus to The Lisbon Traviata, playwrights have sought to raise awareness of mental disorders and sociocultural concerns.

But what King successfully constructs is a highly original and brutally honest narrative of a short life marred by disquiet. Although at times the exposition is both lengthy and repetitive, Conte has pieced together a dialogue-driven performance that, by and large, holds the audience’s attention.

King’s performance is enhanced by Amy Murray, his youthful and pretty foil. Her character’s strength lies in her empathy for Daley, her willingness to share his most sensitive spaces. She is the anti-Ophelia – refusing to play the docile and manipulated “other woman”. Rather, she is prepared to undress and get wet. With Daley.

The blocking works a treat on Sarah Chirichilli’s starkly minimalist antique bathroom and mirror set, and Conte utilises the blunt black and white staging to play to the work’s strengths. It’s a design that is at once disruptive and yet organically melded into the play’s narrative.

Hold Your Breath (…) seeks to tap into our perverse enjoyment of watching others’ chaos. It’s frightening and funny, sardonic and irreverent, and paints a disgorging picture of a scrappy discombobulated inner world. It’s well worth seeing (even just to hear King recite almost the entire Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).

Hold Your Breath (Count to Ten) plays the Blue Room Theatre until 12 May.

Top: Daley King and Amy Murray. Photo: Cinzia Napolitano.