Review: Brenda at HighTide Festival

Alison O''Donnell as Brenda and JackTarlton as Robert
in Brenda at HighTide Festival Aldeburgh

Alison O''Donnell as Brenda and JackTarlton as Robert in Brenda at HighTide Festival Aldeburgh - Credit: ©Nobby Clark Photographer

At the basic level Brenda is about one person making a decision, someone else disagreeing with it, and the latter trying to do what they can to convince the former they are wrong. For all the added levels on top of this, that is what the play boiled down to.

The two characters, Brenda and Robert, are boyfriend and girlfriend. Brenda does not feel she is a person, Robert wants to change her mind.

The blurb says the piece will “ask us what life could look like free from the everyday challenges of being a person”. While it is established Brenda does not appear to feel emotion and is just “pretending” to be a person to fit in to society (a decision hinted at being taken at some point recently, though the reasons for this are not clear), it never felt like anything more than a statement with little context.

The premise, though, was interesting to watch. Robert’s opinion was that he had to help Brenda fit in, be normal, realise she was a person. To some extent he was acting like a carer for a person he felt needed to be looked after. Brenda showed occasional flashes of understanding of Robert’s intentions but despite this would always revert to her own position.

It was almost like an adult battling with a child to get them to understand what appears to be a simple concept, with the child flat out refusing to make any progress.

The play was slow to get going and retained a sedate pace for most of its length, only punctuated when Robert finally got close to breaking point and let his frustration break through. While speeding things up would have spoilt the tone of the piece it did never felt as though anything was driving the situation forward.

The ending, while not feeling particularly final, did at least see a conclusion reached, with Brenda sticking to her guns despite Robert’s attempts to change her mind. However the vagueness and abstract nature of the tale did feel as though it could have done with more context; a bit of an explanation as to what motivated Brenda’s decision, for example.

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Well acted: Yes. Challenging: Certainly. Comprehensible: Unfortunately, not for me. Audience opinion seems to be divided though, so if you’re looking for something a little different, perhaps this is the show for you.

Edmund Crosthwaite

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