The Breaks in You and I is in many ways a very familiar piece. Charting the breakup of a relationship from both perspectives, winding its way through cryptic text messages, diets, ‘getting away from the world’ and oh so many feelings, it’s an intricately written exploration of the normal ups and downs of post-relationship life.
Joanna meets Chloe in a pub. They hit it off, start drinking, keep drinking, touch, kiss, soon fall head over heels in love. Snuggled on the sofa and playing with each other’s hair, they are the picture of relationship bliss. After a year they marry. After another six months, they break up.
Steffi Nancy Walker is grand as the slightly manipulative Chloe, but it is Helen White who shines as the slobby Joanna. Not changing pants for days on end, eating ‘leftovers of leftovers’, wrapping her head in tin foil to try and dig her ex out of her brain, White descends into manicness while keeping the audience eating out of the palm of her hand. It is a wonderful, truthful and bitingly on-the-nose performance – who hasn’t spent a decent amount of time agonizing over a message to or from a loved one?
It’s the relatability of the situation which gives the play its unique charm. Chloe’s almost forceful decision to ‘get on with her life’, starfishing on her double bed and ignoring nagging doubts and regrets coupled with Helen’s non-showering, Countdown-binging apathy show the mundanity of heartbreak. This isn’t dramatic, this isn’t full of grand gestures, declarations of love or big speeches. The Breaks in You and I casts relationship grief as cold pizza, crying silently over coffee in Starbucks and an increased familiarity with the living room sofa.
However, Lizzie Milton’s play remains surprisingly one-note. Breakup 101 it might be, but both roles lack the necessary twists of emotion to give the play the layers and tension it needs to develop. Helen is broken-hearted and angry, Chloe tearful, unsure and ‘really I’m fine’ – the writing only offering up the same pain again and again instead of looking at the changing cycle of moods. The dark humour keeps the play alive and moving, but upon leaving it feels more like a character study, an exercise upon which the actual piece is going to be built. A fine bit of writing, but needing more contrast and nuance to flesh it out properly.