Production photos: To Kill A Mockingbird, Regent's Park Theatre touring production
Vault festival review: The Dog and the Elephant

Review: Maxine Peake in How to Hold Your Breath, Royal Court


Zinnie Harris' new play at the Royal Court has a plot but it isn't really about that. The plot is a frame for something far reaching, almost epic and certainly at times baffling.

It starts with what looks like two lovers in bed: Dana (Maxine Peake) and Jarron (Michael Schaeffer) but when Jarron offers to pay Dana for the sex it sets in motion a story that feels part Greek tragedy and part Camus novel.

Dana is affronted by the offer and refuses the money. Jarron hates to have a debt and vows that within two weeks she will beg him for the money. Dana then embarks on weekend away with her sister Jasmine (Christine Bottomley) across Europe with the aim of eventually ending up in Alexandria where she has to give a presentation. She also secretly wants to find Jarron to whom she is strangely drawn.

During their trip there is an economic collapse and Europe descends into chaos.

At one end of the scale you could see Jarron as a literal devil, there is a librarian who is always there to hand out 'useful' self help books - is he a misguided God? Is Dana mankind, a mortal who upsets the devil and therefore brings about the destruction of civilisation? The other end of the scale is equally peppered with questions, questions about principals, knowledge, capitalism, prejudice, immigration and more.

The play has a nightmarish tone - trying to get to that important meeting and everything going wrong. There is all sorts of bureaucracy for the sisters to navigate in order to complete their journey which has shades of a Camus or Kafka novel.

How To Hold Your Breath is a play you have to invest in. Watching it at times is frustrating and perplexing. It is not wholly satisfying, you have to work at it and at times it feels like chasing the tail of a kite. It's a play which will puzzle you for days as Zinnie Harris turns popular perceptions and some western ideals on their head and I really like it for that.

It runs as the Royal Court until March 21 and is an hour and 55 minutes long without an interval.


First play I saw Mr W in was Leaves of Glass at the Soho Theatre and his co-star was Ms Peake.