Breathing Water

Mon 22nd – Sat 27th August 2011


James Albon

at 21:56 on 25th Aug 2011



The experience of watching a show with four actors, no costumes and no set in a low-ceilinged venue with a capacity of two dozen pretty much typifies the whole of the Edinburgh Fringe. The experience of watching a show with four actors, no costumes and no set in a low-ceilinged venue with a capacity of two dozen and it turning out to be one of the best plays you’ve seen all month is a somewhat rarer occurrence.

Breathing Water follows a pair of young men, Jonah and Comic, across another Saturday night out on the town, which, through discussions about life, girlfriends and flashbacks to his youth, we see him face his own anxieties from school and his crippling fear of water. This is only the half of it though; the story is told through fast-paced poetic soliloquies, written with wit and skill, and is sharply performed to perfectly bring across a frantic, sweaty hedonism of the weekends which, while ostensibly set in Ireland, will chime with anyone who’s felt cynical while drunk on the dancefloor.

That said, there’s a slight feeling that the play doesn’t quite know where it wants to be. The beautifully described setting and anecdotes create a vivid portrait of the feelings of indulgent youth, and each character feels real and well played, but their interactions don’t always match up. The friendship between the two men has real laddish camaraderie to it, but Jonas’ relationship with girlfriend Kate feels one-dimensional and the fourth character, Carrie (who nonetheless plays her part wonderfully), has almost no interaction with the two men. A perfect play should marry setting and story, but the narrative of Jonas’ anxieties seems to have little impact on the other characters, bar his superficial relationship with his girlfriend. This dichotomy comes to a head at the finale of vividly depicted pill-taking ecstasy, followed by an abrupt ending with little closure for the characters.

Still, it’s nowhere near enough to put me off. As I say, the use of language is entrancing; the venue is intimate enough to bring real intensity to the acting and the whole production has this wonderful tone of both sexy and ugly which is phenomenally striking. It’s certainly not for everyone, and older audiences might not find the same empathy in the descriptions of nightclubs, but it’s rare to find something which tackles such a gritty depiction of youth with such elegance.


Helen Catt

at 12:08 on 26th Aug 2011



Breathing Water was, simply put, stunning. Jarlath Tivnan, through his exquisitely passionate performance, gives us a glimpse into the terrifying world of Jonah as he grapples with adult relationships and childhood horrors.

The rhythm of the dialogue combines with the lyrical quality of the southern Irish accent in a way that makes it hard to believe the play wasn't written just for them. Each of the actors fits deftly into their main roles. It was surprising to hear that it was two of the actors' first production with the Fregoli company – the chemistry between them was fantastic. The four actors are also given a chance to show their diversity through the playing of several recognisable types. I say types, rather than stereotypes, because although we instantly recognise the minor characters as certain members of society – the teenage bully and his goofy sidekick or the talentless rapper – the show is refreshingly free of cliché. Even the most minor of characters are drawn in such an original way, by both the script and the acting, that they all have a great depth and credibility.

The show is made up of a number of snapshots. Some of these are hilarious, particularly the scenes as children – the young Jonah introducing himself to a prepubescent Comic (Aron Hagarty) is a particular highpoint. The strongly Catholic father (Teresa Brennan) produced one of the loudest laughs of the performance and the exhaustingly excitable football scenes had the audience in hysterics. All these comedic scenes were played with great confidence and surety. None failed to get a genuine laugh from the audience.

The play has a dark edge to it though. The revelation of the source of Jonah's phobia is unexpected and horrific, and the two actors play it with terrifying credibility. Water is a constant theme through the play, referenced in the dialogue and evoked through the lighting. The use of this theme in the final scene was very well done, and a mastery of script-writing. Kate Murray's performance was particularly touching in this scene – as indeed, it had been throughout the play as she acted the desperately frustrated Sophie, girlfriend of Jonah, shut out from him and his mysterious fears. But perhaps the best performance of the play came from Hagarty in his chilling interpretation of the Brother Bernard at the two boys' secondary school.

Matt Burke's lighting was some of the most interesting I have seen at the Fringe, changing with the mood from a ghostly, watery blue to intense reds. Strobe lighting evokes the almost ritualistic, feverish insanity of the club and the blacking out with the characters' unconsciousness was done very well. The lighting became a definite part of the performance, rather than just illuminating it.

The whole of the performance had an intense energy that sometimes bordered on frenzy. It was an all-consuming visit into the life of Jonah and his gritty, haunting world. This is a play that will stay with you for a long time after watching.


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