Break at the P.A.C

November 4, 2013


“You’re not the system, you’re in the system”, a rapper named Kelly (Elayne Harrington) tells the teachers in Hot for Theatre’s worthy, if, eventually, wearing glimpse behind the staffroom door. The death of a student – and a catastrophic attempt to memorialise him, has the newly appointed vice-principal of a cash strapped secondary school resorting to drastic measures to sate the conflicting needs of the student body and the school board. But attempts by the former to help sew up open wounds brings into sharp focus the pride and prejudice of an already edgy faculty, which in turn highlights the struggle to affect change in an environment where resources are strained and ideas are bureaucratically kept in check.

The social commentary, which was so impassioned and so affecting in Conroy’s previous productions, Eternal Rising of the Sun and I ♥ Alice ♥ I, struggles to be heard in Break, which is constantly in motion. Switching between montage and monologue, chitchat and dad dancing, there are ‘rap’ battles, fistfights and personal subplots pudging out the core text so that it rips the seams of its spine.

The language is awkward and confrontational, striving, as it too often does, for laughs when it should explore the everyday. And director Coburn’s irritating over use of sound effects to signal the opening and closing of doors and cupboards, further cheapens the feel of the piece.

It just never settles. The teachers are forever jumping up and knocking on windows, shouting at students, then shouting at each other. Scenes drag on, as one character derides another and the tension is charged, not by the growing frustration of the characters as the situation spins beyond control, but by raised voices.

When the characters commune with the audience, giving their honest opinion on the students and how it relates to themselves, you get a real sense of the effect this daily grind has had on them. Conroy has the ability, in her writing, to give majesty to the mundane, where the smallest observations can stop time for an audience. Their remarks humanise and endear them to us more than any melodramatic sub-plot and further show us Conroy’s skill at giving voice to those pre-judged by society. .

It must be said that also that there are touching turns from Mark Fitzgerald, ‘forever 17 stone’ and Conroy herself, as an old before her time school marm. While Clare Barrett is a welcome presence on any stage.

But the exposition just keeps coming, flying through the air like the chairs in Paul Keogan’s set. And after Coburn decides to stir some slow motion movement into the mix, the curtain call is greeted with the relief of the school bell.

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