Review: Breaker, Adelaide Fringe Festival

Stories are the foundation of our society. They weave themselves into the everyday, from childhood tales at night time, to the hushed whispers of gossip between neighbours. Stories fuel the fire within us, finding their place within the everyday. But stories aren’t always filled with happiness; they create an epicentre for rippling effects that cause devastation and catastrophe. They report upon the strangeness and bitterness that life can throw upon a person. Breaker by Salka Gudmundsdottir in a translation and direction by Græme Maley tells the story of a remote island with a haunting tale to tell. If theatre has its roots within the foundations of stories from Ancient Greece then Breaker harks back to the art of storytelling in a two-hander that twists and turns its storytelling at every moment. It is, in its purest sense, a fine piece of storytelling.

Daniel (Finn den Hertog) comes to the island in search of the places his grandmother once told him about in her stories of old. He is drawn to the school, a building where the paint attempts to cover up the decay and depression that lurks within. Sunna (Hannah Donaldson) a teacher from the school and island resident finds Daniel and berates him for snooping, presuming he is a journalist looking for more stories to report on the island after “the incident”. In an hour of tense and emotive dialogue it emerges that the island suffered tragedy after four children jumped off the cliffs plummeting to their deaths. Each independent of each others, as if drawn to the sea by a whispering in the night.

When Breaker works it balances on the knife edge of emotive and powerful dialogue that hinges on the unknown incident that so affects Sunna. Gudmundsdottir’s writing and ability to draw out a story that somehow sends a chill down your back is brought to the audience through Maley’s direction (and translation itself). Yet for all the storytelling, I can’t help to be frustrated by Breaker. The characters seem to be working at full throttle without dropping to subtlety, without teasing out the chilling story through their words and, given the intimate nature of the Holden Street Theatre and the two-hander performance, the potential sits so close to the surface but doesn’t feel fully realised. Ultimately if blame is to be made (although blame should be used lightly) it falls to Maley’s direction. There are far too many instances when Donaldson’s anger and inner turmoil boil up without justification. Equally, Hertog’s Daniel is a fiery but innocent young man who gets caught up in Sunna’s tale with force. To put it simply, Breaker needs to slowly reveal the tension and turmoil faced by the characters, it needs subtlety.

That’s not to say that there aren’t fine performances at work, with both Donaldson and Hertog delivering some great dialogue between them. Maley’s direction, whilst for me frustrating, is clearly committed to the text, and it’s understandable when Gundmundsdottir’s text is one of rich quality. So whilst Breaker does well as a piece of chilling storytelling, it lacks a certain subtlety to truly envelop its audience within the tale. Which is a shame given the potential of the text.

Originally published on A Younger Theatre.