Director and now writer Benedict Andrews says this, his first ever developed and produced play, grew from an image of a security guard gazing out from behind the glass walls of an empty office block. From the first minute of Every Breath we are confronted with such visions of isolation, eerie reflection, suggested threat and the hollowed-out activity of abandoned places.
A family – famed writer Leo (John Howard), night-swimming mother Lydia (Angie Milliken), and 16-year-old twins Oliver (Dylan Young) and Olivia (Eloise Mignon) – are on the precipice of an unnamed danger. They enlist cipher-like Chris (Shelly Lauman) to protect them; little knowing, or caring, that the danger inevitably must come from within. In a series of sexually-charged scenes, that when viewed in succession border on satire, each family member turns to Chris seeking an image in the mirror that is not their own, to literally fill their own perceived Lacanian ‘lack’.
The stage, deployed with characteristic Andrews ingenuity, is bifurcated by a luminescent black pentagon that when lofted, leaves a glowing sky above, a depthless pool below. Tellingly, there is little space around this on which to congregate; the family is rarely together and scenes of connection are stolen, illicit. This has the effect of mechanising the flow somewhat, as each character marches out, says their piece, then marches back (usually naked) with sniper-like precision. Nothing feels natural; this is Andrews’ little chamber opera of flashing lights and haunting overtures (supplied by composer Oren Ambarchi).
Every Breath is cleverly wrought, and even more cleverly delivered. Certainly, its themes, spun from that one image of a solitary security guard, may be played out a little too literally – but that at least serves to keep things neat, if not immensely satisfying.
Until Apr 29, Belvoir St Theatre Upstairs, 25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills, $42-62, 9699 3444, belvoir.com.au