Online – YouTube
Some homeless people have a dog for company. The hero of Breathe, a one-man show by Neil Bebber, instead has a blow-up doll. We meet the man (played by Jordan Bernarde) in a dilapidated attic – hungry, dirt smeared over his face and chest, wearing a hoodie. He’s hustling imaginary passers-by when he notices us and starts to relate the story of how he rescued a deflated blow-up sex doll found in an alleyway.
He finds the doll as it’s being vomited on by a drunken girl with one broken high heel. As she stumbles away, he realises he has to rescue it, since no one else will. “I’ve never raped or murdered anyone,” he says to the doll, reassuringly, as he wipes the vomit from it with a wet wipe. Blowing the doll up – the Breathe of the title – returns her to her tacky, plasticky form. “I saved someone,” he says with pride.
He imagines the doll telling him her story. “It’s complicated,” she says. “It’s just what you say, isn’t it,” he remarks, “when you’re too afraid to admit that you don’t understand.” He reflects on his own childhood – his mother’s admission that she found she was too late to seek a termination before walking out on him and his father.
But what is he to do when he comes across a second, male, blow-up sex doll? Yes, he patches it up, but a part of him hopes he won’t make it as she relishes in the return of her soulmate. The pair serve as the catalyst for his story of the breakup of his relationship with his partner, of her infidelity, of his failing interaction with their children.
Poignant, sad and immensely moving, without ever falling into the trap of being maudlin, Breathe is a play that’s perfectly suited to the confines of YouTube. Jordan Bernarde, with his soft, lilting Welsh accent, delivers an immaculate performance with wit and subtlety; Natalie Denton’s light directorial touch prevents the action from being too static. Lockdown theatre at its best.
There is no charge for viewing on YouTube; instead, the author recommends a donation to either Shelter or Shelter Cymru.
Written by: Neil Bebber
Directed by: Natalie Denton