Dennis Kelly’s bleak yet gripping script, ‘Debris,’ is his first written play that celebrates its 11-year anniversary at the Southwark Playhouse. Imaginative director Abigail Graham, approached Kelly to adapt his script onto the stage and given how impressed he was with her direction of ‘Molly Sweeney’ – it was an offer too good to refuse.
Stage designer, Signe Beckmann, makes use of the little room of the Southwark Playhouse displaying grey and concrete rubble of stones and bricks scattered and piled onto a heap – it, literally, is debris. Even before the play has begun our innocent and tattered siblings, Michael (Harry McEntire) and Michelle (Leila Mimmack) warm themselves up before they plunge into a devastating nightmare conveying a dark and broken childhood filled with unanswered questions and unsettling conclusions. They draw on the wall and play with stones to fill their time.
Monologue after monologue they re-visit their miserable past retelling stories as they had viewed them through their inexperienced eyes verbalising their deeper deranged thoughts about God, their paedophilic Uncle Harry and their abusive and alcoholic father. Throughout the play, they’d kick and throw stones across the room to add to their confused mindsets and distorted frustrations. Their handling of these bricks and stones measure the intensity of their emotions.
Michael delivers his account of his 16th birthday that sheds blood as it shares the same date as his father’s death whose body was crucified in his own living room. He laments on his skewed reality, which is the polar opposite of a boy who lays his head on his mother’s lap and watches them through a window like watching TV. Yet, McEntire shows us his true colours through Michael’s discovering of life in a waste chute – a half dead baby – as he says, he is now aware that there are lives different from ours. His visualization of breastfeeding the child with his own blood and finding solace in this shrivelled baby he calls, my rubbish he exclaims is the meaning of love.
Michelle, with a balloon in her hand, to symbolize her embryotic state, fires away with several accounts of her mother’s death. She depicts her parents struck with a life-changing ultimatum when her mother chokes on a piece of chicken as she says, they chose me…I was their joy. And another provoking image of herself as a foetus growing like a plant in her mother’s dead corpse eating the almost decayed womb in order to survive. Mimmack has a brilliant way of grappling with Kelly’s detailed words, which give Michelle’s stories a resounding effect of despair.
Memorable scenes include Michelle with a lightsaber in a quasi Star Wars moment as well as Michael’s shocking attempt to forcefully strangle his sister. Graham’s revival show is filled with heartrending monologues that gradually build up with wake up calls through abrupt thumps and a loud balloon being popped. This intensively engaging production will make an audience think about violent realities and Kelly’s language is conveyed by both, McEntire and Mimmack, in individual and insightful ways.