“You always thought it would be you”. This line repeats and echoes throughout the first half of the play, reminding the audience just how real these situations are. In the six years since the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting, the prevalence of school shootings has been unavoidable. Those who work in education now have a get out plan, and particularly in America many have the fear that one day it will be them.
Well written, well directed and stunningly well performed.
Martín Zimmerman's excruciatingly powerful monologue On The Exhale explores the reaction of a mother whose young son has just been killed. From dropping him off at school, to having to accept that he is now in a coffin, the mother develops an overwhelming obsession with the machine that killed him. It is gripping, thoughtful and fits a whole lot of emotion into just one hour.
The sole performer, Polly Frame, provides a sympathetic insight into a woman spiralling down a dark path. Her presence on stage is warm and safe, welcoming you into her most private moments and thoughts. The piece itself is remarkably well paced, mastering rises and falls in tension to fully captivate the audience’s attention. Assisted by the use of breathing placed slowly and methodically throughout, the text becomes almost ritualistic for the mother and allows a moments relief for the audience.
Buzzing and ringing sounds are played intermittently throughout the piece, creating a very disorientating feel to the production. The uncomfortable sound mix, designed by Donato Wharton, mirrors the sound just after you shoot a large gun. This, along with the subtle lighting effect, ensure On the Exhale is a well-polished exercise in precision theatre making. It is undoubtedly impressive that the production succeeds so well in balancing this precision art, alongside genuine emotions and a grief which feels so a real it fills the room.
In 2018, with the tragedy of the Parkland Shooting, this is a fresh and hugely important production. Christopher Haydon addresses these issues sensitively, without missing out on an engaging drama-driven plot. It is simple but effective, and carries the triple threat of being well written, well directed and stunningly well performed. During Frame’s bows there were tears in my eyes as well as in hers, and this human connection becomes a morning for not just the life of this one child but for the wider situation in which children are so regularly killed in this way.