There’s something sharp and flinty about Brutal Cessation. Milly Thomas’s two-hander charting the breakdown of a relationship is so staccato as to glance away from real weight. We watch Alan Mahon and Lydia Larson play a couple for whom love and the threat of violence inflects everything they say and do. They laugh at the idea of being burned alive, express graphically bloody fantasies and use injury as a means to test devotion. The script throbs with recrimination for an unnamed betrayal and anger curdles into bursts of bitterness.
The aesthetic of Bethany Pitts’ production is starkly effective, juxtaposing the gleam of a bare, white, wipe-clean set with ketchup smeared as blood. This stripped back staging is reflected by dialogue pared down to sharp jabs. But the tennis-serve tempo of the direction renders the couple’s exchanges too fleeting for them to make much impact. There’s a compellingly dark undertow of trauma here, which fitfully breaks the surface in the hurt and confusion that streaks across Mahon’s face.
Sometimes, his sparring with Larson draws the kind of blood that bubbles up in snatches of bleak humour. But we aren’t given enough to go on by the direction. This is an almost surgically precise production with some sharp lines and vivid imagery—you certainly won’t look at a watermelon the same way again—but its unvarying coldness ultimately works against it. The script says less than it thinks. It cuts but doesn’t sting enough.