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Robin/Red/Breast | Factory International

Conceived by the team of Maxine Peake, Sarah Frankcom and Imogen Knight, Robin/Red/Breast is a modern retelling of a John Bowen TV play from 1970, which follows Norah Palmer. Recently dumped by her boyfriend, she moves from busy London to a house she had previously purchased with her former partner in the remote countryside of southern England and discovers how much the unusual townspeople contrast with those to whom she’d become accustomed in the bustling metropolis of Europe’s largest city. The story directly addresses complex issues such as fertility, bodily autonomy and violence, with a similar sort of vibe to The Wicker Man or Midsommar in terms of its pagan and ritualistic undertones; our experience in the initial section is enhanced by means of individual headphones, giving us uniquely intimate insight into Norah’s perspective, and adding considerably to the suspense and horror.

The show centres around Peake’s individual performance, which is gripping, emotionally complex, and though the narrative is a little structurally fragmented, she displays true terror and panic but simultaneously a genuine solemnity, that has us fully engaged with her throughout. What was most impressive though was the opening 20 minutes or so, where we experience her inner monologue whilst watching her act solely through facial expressions and movement, which requires serious acting talent and must be highly commended.

Peake is supported by subsidiary performer Tyler Cameron, as well as a 10-piece all female brass band, representing the locals in the village in which protagonist Norah resides. The musicians’ performances, in particular, are tight, with some musically mature solo and ensemble playing across the board, and the subtle, varying degrees of dissonance that build provide a chilling backdrop to what was an uneven, yet gripping piece of theatre.

Whilst the performances all around were top class, it’s difficult to ignore that, in spite of the clear three-part structure, the whole overriding plot is not the easiest to grasp onto, especially without previous knowledge of the source material. If understanding a piece of theatre has to come with prior research and reading, in some ways that diminishes its artistic integrity, and if the narrative can’t be effectively communicated through the performances alone, regardless of their quality, it is disappointing for any audience. This felt very much like a series of musings, the direction of, and connection between which never really present themselves with any form of clarity.

In spite of the narrative vagueness, there is no denying that, creatively, this piece of theatrical art delivers on how it wishes to make the audience feel, and this is achieved wonderfully through composer Gazelle Twin and sound designer Pete Malkin. We were treated to some hugely atmospheric auditory sensation, especially during the opening section through means of close proximity to Peake’s initial monologue, as well as effective stereo shifting from one ear to the other. Lighting design by Lizzie Powell was also hugely potent, combining expertly with Malkin to help create several moments of genuine shock and fear. This is a piece of theatre that could have been a huge hit, sadly the use of synergy didn’t entirely create the desired effect.

Robin/Red/Breast runs at Factory International until 26th May - for more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.

⭐️⭐️⭐️ (3*)

Gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Tristram Kenton

1 Comment

Lovely to hear your thoughts! I too got invited and I completely agree with this. It was lovely reading your review! Hope all of the AIT team has a wonderful day! 😊

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