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Broke Her - an intense time-ticking thriller

Review written by Ellie Cansdale Broke Her is the debut performance of theatre company Steel Harbour Productions. The play has recently returned from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2022 as part of a Programme of Working Class shows with Bloomin’ Buds Theatre Company. The play is written and directed by Luke Mosley, performed by Emily Lloyd, Liam Duggan and Jamie Phillips. As we enter the space, we are greeted by an intimate stage set up to look like an 80’s - style living room. On one side, we see Isobelle (Lloyd) tied to a chair with a gag in her mouth. On the other, sits Dewolfe (Phillips), a balaclava-d man sat intimidatingly staring at her. Upon sitting down, the lights disappear and when they return, a clock is heard at that just above audible level ticking all around us. We are immediately uneasy, setting the tone for the rest of the piece. After a few seconds, Isobelle wakes up, much to the delight of Dewolfe, who reveals his face from beneath the balaclava and we are greeted with a gleer that adds to the tense atmosphere. We see a squirming Isobelle as he leaves his seat and walks over to her to remove her gag, a tie. She instinctively tries to yell to get attention but is quickly shut up by her kidnapper. The intensity increases as we learn that not only is there a strange man in her house, but a strange man who knows everything about her and her husbands’ lives. And I mean everything. Through a monologue, broken up by Isobelle’s protestations and confessions, we are captivated by Phillip’s stern words and menacing glare that never fails to break its pace. We can’t help but fear for Isobelle and wish to find out what’s happening to her and why as much as she does. As she tries to appease him with promises of money and valuables in the bedroom, she is dismissed with a glare and a sharp shout that leaves us reeling in fear. The one-sided conversation continues as Dewolfe forces a cigarette in her mouth, a biscuit on her lap and continues to intimidate all in the room. A massive shout out to Lloyd for her ability to perform from just a chair with no use of her arms. The two captivate the audience and hold the stage well as we hear more about Isobelle’s life. The lights throughout have been flickering very subtly underneath, a clever design choice by Iona Wilkins and Luke Mosley, that adds to the uncertainty of the scene. Dewolfe questions his captive more on her life with her husband; his health, their first date, their first kiss, all increasingly intimate parts of a couple’s life that heighten the intensity and discomfort in the audience. A collective gasp fills the room when he gets an answer he doesn’t want and tea is thrown at Isobelle. The ever -growing aggression in his character increases and we worry about what he’s going to do next. He throws us off guard by finding something to listen to out of their record collection and we hear a beautiful classical track fill the room, juxtaposing the tension and removing the ticking. We are grateful for this but our fears are heightened as this is often used as a trope in the background of intense fight scenes in movies or TV programmes. And our fears are met. Isobelle is gagged again by Dewolfe when we hear a knock on the door behind us. The pair startle but Dewolfe is in the know and we see Liam Duggan playing Joshua walk down the audience aisle. The two men meet in front of the stage, an interesting direction choice by Mosley, creating a new place within the play. It works effectively, bringing the action closer to the audience and therefore bringing us further into the story. A heated conversation plays out where we learn the reasons behind what we have just watched. The unfolding twist unlocks answers behind all the questions Isobelle’s been asked and shows us a helpless man wanting to make a better life for his wife after his inevitable and imminent death. Duggan’s Joshua is mostly calm despite the events that are about to happen but the fear in his eyes is undeniable. Mosley’s direction paired with the excellent acting skills of all three performers creates a thrilling piece of theatre. The simple tech and staging allow for an intimate space to be created and for the audience to feel inside the room with the characters, allowing for more intense reactions. Congratulations to Steel Harbour for the successful run at the Fringe gaining 4 and 5 star reviews.

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