Review: Life Before the Line
A heartwrenching drama about what it’s like to live in a world young and terrified
It’s 2017. Four Jewish teenagers are locked in their classroom as the scream of a terrorist bell goes off in their school, a time bomb counting down the seconds of their lives. Enlightening and heartbreaking, Life Before the Line (written by Amy Lever and directed by Ben Phillips & Amy Lever) captivated me from the beginning.
At first, it feels like a high school comedy – Esty (Emma Kentridge) is sick of her ridiculous boyfriend Allister (Jacob Benhayoun), and twins Danny (Abraham Alsawaf) and Sara (Sawen Ali) are mucking about while Rabbi Solomon (Sam Brown) struggles to keep the class on track for their upcoming GCSE exams. But, just as Sara is sent out of class for misbehaviour, the terrorist alarm abruptly rings. Suddenly, the laughs grow silent. Each student is brought terrifyingly close to the thin line that lies between life and death.
We are hurtled back into the past where we intently watch each event that leads up to this moment in time, exploring the deeply emotional past of each character within the classroom. Behind Allister’s carefree, bold exterior hides an angry, isolated boy grappling with a traumatic incident. His best friend Danny, though often cheery and kipper, battles a life-threatening problem and an overprotective mother outside the classroom.
The audience is forced to take in, with rising horror, the growing momentum in each flashback that rolls forward to bring about the very ringing of the terrorist bell. And the final scene brings the story to a cyclical, deeply cathartic close.
The actors’ performances are simply unmissable – the four main characters brought the house down on the opening night with their depiction of the teens’ troubling, emotionally turbulent lives. Combined with the brilliantly written and sensitive script, their performance brought the audience to tears at some points and laughter at others.
Of course, it would be impossible to write a review without drawing attention to the production. The lighting and production crew (Harri Macdonald Eggers) did a marvellous job distinguishing the time frame with their manipulation of lighting. It isn’t easy to separate past and present on stage in real-time, but the production team handles the challenge brilliantly, and the plotline is linear and easy to follow.
In certain scenes, such as Esty’s visit to her counsellor, the actors seem to be a little too far forward on the stage, and I fear that audience members may have trouble perceiving the emotion of the characters during these few key moments. However, these are only brief, and elsewhere, the actors adopt positions in the centre of the stage – which permit a better delivery overall.
If you’re worried you’ll have difficulty getting to grips with the Jewish cultural background that ‘Life Before the Line’ is entrenched in, fear not – the script elegantly weaves in explanations of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, and the emotional heart of the play will suck you into the lives of Esty and Allister, Danny, and Sara so quickly that you’ll scarcely have time to worry about missing any of these cultural details.
Life Before the Line broaches what it truly feels like to live in a world that is terrifying at every turn while still possessing the courage to carry on. If I could give this a score above 5 – it is more than well-deserved – I would, but I suppose I’d have to settle on a 5/5 this time. An unmissable performance and a truly spectacular show. I cannot recommend getting a ticket to this enough.
Life Before the Line is running from Tuesday 25th January to Saturday 29th January at 7.00 pm at the Corpus Playroom. Tickets are available here.
Feature image credits: Céleste Spratt