Lydia Larson is instantly dismissive of boyfriend Alan Mahon. This is going to sound like a somewhat misogynistic statement, but it’s as though she is behaving in a traditionally masculine manner towards him – sudden aggressive outbursts, emotional blackmail and a chase-not-catch approach to teasing. It’s not romantic love, it’s violent and ugly and intense. Milly Thomas’ Brutal Cessation appears to gender-swap the dialogue and throw fresh perspective on the concept of a traditional relationship at the point in which it falls apart.

Thomas’ script pounds the audience with the grinding constancy of an argument – non-stop sadism in a burst of short, sharp exchanges. Love is a weapon here, used to wound and beat down. It lacks connectivity however, both between the individuals and to their audience. Everything is somewhat muted, despite being explosive. Thomas weaves in intricate details but never quite throws the full impact of the blast out at us to feel.

There’s an exchange where the couple both eat pasta and then Mahon pummels a watermelon. There’s a vivid description beforehand of Larson’s frightening fantasy to smash in Mahon’s skull, scoop out his brains and wriggle around in his insides. It’s carnal, it’s disturbing, it’s complete with deranged laughter and a manic, murderous intent. Larson makes everything all about her – Mahon is an object to be used both sexually and non-sexually at her whim. Brutal Cessation an exploration of sexuality in an unsafe space.

But then she asks him to describe a fantasy and he has none. The pregnant pause in proceedings indicates that this is somehow worse – as if despondency and apathy is more hurtful than twisted pleasure. Larson’s face says it all, her body shifting into that of a sulking child that no longer wants to play because she’s lost the game. The to and fro of this immature dynamic is well explored by director Beth Pitts.

Brutal Cessation, despite not making the most of its controversy, is not one for the faint-hearted. From the watermelon to a tomato ketchup graze that gets licked off in a display of disgusting dedication, Brutal Cessation isn’t afraid to accentuate effects that cause the audience to visibly squirm. This is the side to a couple that an audience would rather not witness, but one that ends on a disappointingly bland note. Thomas’ script cycles quicker and quicker through each event, as if accelerating and emphasising the message. But it eventually falls a bit flat – the climax of being actively apologetic isn’t believable and lacks poignancy. For a show that spends so much of its time adding to an awkward atmosphere, the production doesn’t capitalise enough on this in its final moments.

 

★★★☆☆

Brutal Cessation plays Assembly George Square, Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017 until 28 August 2017. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here.

Follow the link to an interview with writer, Milly Thomas.