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A review by Vanessa Bunn for EXTRA! EXTRA!



33% Festival London presents

Take a Deep Breath and Breathe


by Bola Agbaje

Directed by Toby Clarke

Designed by Lucy Read


Ovalhouse - Downstairs Theatre


16 April - 20 April 2013


The Festival continues through 27 Apr. 2013

Inspired by Aristophanes' Lysistrata, a canonical piece which has received plentiful literary homage, Take a Deep Breath and Breathe is a spirited, engaging piece which thrashes out relationships between sex and power, lovers and peers, and fear and bravado. Last year the Greek original found echoes in a protest headed by a civil-rights activist in Togo who encouraged the women of the country to withhold sex for political ends. In this play, Bola Agbaje’s conflict is the gut reaction of three bereft youths in the wake of their friend Donovan’s (Kennedy Mills) murder, their very separate reactions all merge in a thirst for revenge. It is this revenge which their significant others suppose can be curbed through distraction, a distraction which they decide can only be maintained with the teasing promise of a not-too-distant prize.

Hazel (Tamara Camacho), sister one of the young men seeking revenge, is the haughty instigator who concocts the plan as a result of her dabbling in psychology and an unavoidable not-so-wholesome relationship with men during her formative years. She persuades her brothers’ virginal girlfriend Candy (Scarlet Billham) to, essentially, keep her treasure-chest locked and thus her powers of persuasion safe within. What could be a dubious opener is instead a raucously funny tirade, thanks to a blazing script and a forceful performance from Tamara Camacho to match. The comedy keeps rolling as straight-talking Natalie (Nicole Abraham) and reluctant April (Ellie Herdman) are roped on-board.

The determinedly domestic set is divided between three scenes, one at stage front, and two more at back left and right. Seated on stools with quite a width between audience members it was possible to swing around and follow the action as it flitted between household scenes. A charming soundscape by sound designer Giles Thomas threads the non-stop action and enhances a sense of pressure and looming peril.

Jamael Westman delivers an intense performance as broodingly aggressive Ryan. Cory Hippolyte is a breath of fresh air as Charles who Natalie is taking for a ride of sorts with a list of demands imposed to prove his worth. Her brother Paul (Leon Schwier), is a more sensitive figure with arguably the most to prove, as he grapples with a very tangible masculinity complex and struggles most with the loss of his friend and accompanying anguish. The male side of the cast is tied up in the slothful figure of Andrew (Faruk Dogan), even more striking in his general naivety than the enthusiastic Candy. He has seen more sexual action than his two friends put together and seems capable of providing hours of enjoyment for April if her reports are to be believed, yet it is he who is easily duped into believing that it possible that she has ‘dried up like a desert’ from too much sex. Beneath all the bravado and straight-talking some very poignant issues about blame, sexual aggression and naivety abound and receive unlikely sensitive treatment from a savvy, close-knit cast.

This is fresh, feisty, engaging theatre with bite, urging both laughter with abandon and contemplation with focus. Scarcely have I witnessed a whole set of performances generate such unanimous, feverish delight in an audience.


33% Festival - Ovalhouse's legendary Festival for and by young people is back!

Tickets £8/5
Box office: 020 7582 7680
Kennington Oval
London SE11 5SW
SAT AFTERNOON SHOW JUST ADDED for Bola Agbaje’s Take A Deep Breath and Breathe: 20 April 2.30pm


Festival runs through 27 April


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