BWW Review: AVALANCHE: A LOVE STORY, Barbican
When a young love is re-lit when both parties are past their late 30s, a woman's objectives shift towards previously unexplored horizons. Her newborn desire to have a child nearly takes over her life.
Written by novelist, screenwriter, and director Julia Leigh, Avalanche: A Love Story is directly inspired by her own experience with IVF treatments and presented by Anne-Louise Sarks as part of the Barbican's Fertility Fest. Maxine Peake takes on the role in the monologue, delivering an empathetic and emotional performance.
Sarks reduces the massive stage to a cold, immaculate room with stark white walls. She encloses the character, caging her inside her own little world of desperate attempts and willingness to do anything it takes to achieve her goals. While Peake resolutely meanders the space retelling a (extremely privileged) journey that borders between obsession, selfishness, and natural instincts, Lizzie Powell's lighting design delicately engulfs the scene with a chilling aura.
The actress embarks on a roller-coaster of love and disappointment, purpose and delusion, brokenness and acceptance, introducing to the audience a woman whose life shows the clashing dichotomy society thrusts upon their female units. A fairly successful writer, she's suddenly overcome with the desire of procreating, which is then put aside for a while in order to advance her career much to her husband's dismay.
The ambivalence of Leigh's script becomes clear when she introduces external elements to her reasoning, inciting a compelling reflection but never actively tackling it. Is the protagonist merely a victim of a society who forces pregnancy on women or is she discovering a new side of herself and refusing to accept that she might not attain her ultimate, newly-acquired goal?
Peake's delivery owns a good balance of resilience and frailty, commanding the stage without drowning in its emptiness. Sarks hides a couple of scenic tricks up her sleeve, which, combined with Stefan Gregory's sound design, become an allegorical representation of her inner exploration through Marg Horwell's set. Avalanche: A Love Story is a powerful story that highlights the grief and struggles of parents who are unable to conceive.
This is, however, a rather monotone and stagnant production until the very end, which finally relaxes the quiet tension built up by the narrative. Leigh offers scientific information in an accessible manner but the reiteration of numbers and probability halts the deeply personal experience of the piece, often turning it into an oddly shaped leaflet.
Photo credit: The Other Richard