A group of lads in their final year at Uni are thrown together in a student house. We watch friendships form, then teeter on the brink of destruction; the young men struggle to find the haven of home in this shared house. We gradually find out why. Each of them is grappling with a toxic combination of a stressful individual back-story, the pressure of Uni deadlines, and the burden of expectations which accompanies sexual licence or experiment. Each one has a manifestly different way of coping with the consequent overwhelm.
The result portrayed here is an intense microcosm of domestic conflict. As the men's individual dramas unfold, the audience becomes voyeur. We are party to confidences shared, perhaps lending a deeper appreciation of the lads’ plight than they themselves currently have the capacity or understanding for.
The company’s intention is to raise awareness of mental health difficulties in young men, and they ultimately achieve that ambition. It’s hard to discuss the most important point of the play without spoiling its regrettable outcome. However, this final twist of fate is a surprise, and an effective warning of the insidious nature of depression.
The show is well-executed, showing off the actors' training in physical theatre. On a small stage and without props, they do an excellent job of conjuring scenes at a nightclub.
But a succession of scenes of macho bravado – bullying the underdog, testosterone-fuelled argument and sexual conquest – show up characters driven by stereotype. It’s no surprise that the ‘nerd’ of the group is a Star Trek fanatic. Each of the men is distinct, and has a distinct role in the group, but at times it seemed to me they were trying too hard; the nerd in particular was generally overanxious in his delivery of character.
I have to say as well that, although the play's purpose and relevance is clear to me now, at around the halfway point I wasn't sure where it was going. The company are ambitious in how much they pack in, but a frank edit of the script is recommended. The nerd’s prep for his forthcoming date is laboured, and the scene where Gavin introduces his invention could be cut, without compromising his character or the play at all.
For all these possible tweaks, however, Brothers remains a thought-provoking contribution to the wider discussion of mental health developing at the Fringe this year.