TNC Archive 2014
Writer: Alexander Moschos
Brainville at Night
Director: Matthew Parker
Old Red Lion Theatre
July 28, 2022
With music playing in the background as the packed audience takes their seats in the Old Red Lion Theatre, an interesting calm descends on the room. The music continues for a time before the lights dim and First Drafts' "Brainville at Night" by Alexander Moschos begins. Sara Pollonghini’s set is sparse but feels full, and she has used the space to great effect.
As morning comes, ‘Sven’ and his wife ‘Ingrid’, who is suffering from frontotemporal dementia, awake from their bed and begin their daily routine. The first scenes between "Sven" and "Ingrid" are intense and create somewhat of a nervous giggle from the audience. Though at times these scenes are warmhearted, ‘Sven’, played with great intensity by Robert Hickson, is clearly stressed and short-tempered.
Brainville at Night is a powerful and unforgettable story that unfolds through a variety of techniques, including some interesting video and projection from Mafalda Cruz that give this production great depth.
Moschos has managed to blend the difficult reality that "Sven" and "Ingrid" face with a surreal reality which takes place mainly inside the Blue Whale bar. The first scene between the barman (Hickson) and a man (Eddie Usher) is funny and slightly absurd, and over time, this reality becomes more surreal with humour, aided by the addition of a girl (Sophie Dora-Hall), which provides a great balance to the play.
The scenes inside the Blue Whale between Usher and Dora-Hall are hysterical and delivered with bemused perfection. Dora-Hall shines as the slightly creepy stranger who walks into the bar and seduces the young man. As the girl begins to intrigue the young man, she weaves a tale so fantastical that one is almost put on edge to see where these stories are headed. Usher is remarkable as "Henry", the male nurse/man, delivering a performance that is respectful and sympathetic yet strong, funny, and emotionally assured. Early on, there is a gentleness to the way the nurse interacts with ‘Ingrid’ that is touching and underlines a hidden narrative that is explored by the end of the play.
But it is Ilona Linthwaite's performance as ‘Ingrid’ that is masterfully delivered with poise while delicately allowing the audience to understand her story. One becomes so connected with "Ingrid" that it becomes impossible to take one's eyes off her. As she struggles with new life and challenges with "Sven", who himself is struggling to make sure "Ingrid" is taken care of, the audience becomes privy to the difficult reality faced by those who are living with frontotemporal dementia and that of their loved ones.
In an argument between "Sven" and their daughter "Cecilia" (Louise Torres-Ryan), something truly unexpected happens. As the argument continues, but silenced, the actors move in extreme slow motion, at which point "Ingrid" all of a sudden comes to life. Articulate but slightly confused about the ensuing situation, she talks directly to the audience, giving us an insight into what she is thinking.
"Sven" seems plagued with guilt from their past, which is part of the reason why he refuses to put "Ingrid" into a care facility. His love for his wife is undeniable, but the stress he is under, and the limits to the care he can offer her, is clear. This self-imposed burden is illustrated fantastically by Hickson, who brings "Sven" to life with a sensitivity that allows the audience to connect with a character that is quite hard to like at times.
During the first scene between "Sven" and the new male carer, "Henry" (Usher), we get to better understand his attitude, which is cold, harsh, and tinged with a pinch of bitterness. The unexpected change in carer for his wife sets "Sven" aback, and he is unable to hide his contempt for "Henry". But "Henry" responds stoically, never taking the bait, leaving "Sven" with no choice but to let the nurse help his wife to bed.
Moschos has written a play that feels as big as the notion of love itself. His characters are realistic and complex, which at times leaves them stuck in a stubbornness that makes it tricky to like them fully. And yet, one does find it impossible not to connect and understand these tough and challenging characters.
"There are a few moments in the play that are introduced but never followed up, and this never seems to damage the production."
Brainville at Night is a thought-provoking production which manages to unravel a story of love, loss, and fear with a great amount of understanding without trying to give the audience all the answers. There are a few moments in the play that are introduced but never followed up, and this never seems to damage the production. Moreover, it aids the complexity of Brainville. However, this production does suffer from somewhat of a series of tricky final scenes, which unfortunately lead the audience down a few false endings.
The company has been directed with great care and attention by Matthew Parker, who in turn has worked with a gifted and talented cast who have understood Moschos’ text and brought his characters to life with care and understanding.