Breathing Irregular @ Gate Theatre, London

cast list
Temitope Ajose-Cutting, Bryony Hannah, Brendan Hughes, va Magyar, Mary Erskine

directed by
Carrie Cracknell
Breathing Irregular is based on the transcripts of seven harrowing real life emergency calls.

Ranging from the desperate to the pathetic to the blackly humorous, the stories have the capacity to make you squirm in your seat.

Combining movement and spoken word, Breathing Irregular is not a straight-forward dance piece, rather it’s theatre with intervals of dance. Performed in the small, intimate space of the Gate Theatre, the sequences play out on a curved stage, which seems to be suspended by ropes, the actors peering over the sides as if over the edge of an abyss.
Throughout the piece the performers fall and support each other, either in comfort or rescue, a device that is returned to and repeated.

In the space of 50 minutes director Carrie Cracknell, together with choreographer Jane Mason, presents a series of true-life stories: a desperate mother with a young toddler in a burning house; a daughter with a father in cardiac arrest; a man who ends up several miles down the road from his arm following an accident with a chainsaw (a familiar story, having been reported by the UK media in 2008).

The dance sequences act as a form of ‘punctuation’, intense but repetitive. While the stories are cleverly interwoven with one another, the use of dance as a metaphor for human fragility was reiterated too frequently.

The rawness of the transcripts was at times unrelenting and the audience could have done with some respite. That said, the final scene of a successful home birth guided by an unseen operator was a bit too obviously meant to symbolise the human instinct to survive.

The fluidity of Temitope Ajose-Cuttings dancing in particular is undeniable and the raw performances of the actors successfully convey the potency of the calls. In fact the most memorable aspect of this show ends up being these transcripts – real crises faced by real people – and the staging highlighted the emotional aspect of these.

Breathing Irregular is, at times, a fascinating depiction of human endeavour in the face of tragedy and a poweful statement on the fragility of life. But it has a tendency to overwork its metaphors and the mixture of choreography and spoken word left this viewer feeling a little frazzled and wishing that the stories had been given greater freedom to speak for themselves.

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