A Review of Break Yourself by Ira Brand, by Student Ambassador Christine Mears

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I walked into the Downstairs Theatre of Ovalhouse unknowing of what I was about to watch. In return, I was closely watched by Ira Brand, who was sat on stage dressed as a man with a marker pen moustache and beard drawn onto her face. During this short one woman devised show, Brand took on a number of male personas, one of whom was Bruce Springsteen in a red bandana and sleeveless denim jacket. An audience member asked Brand whilst she was playing the persona of Oli, a fairly ordinary graphics designer, about his love for Springsteen to which he improvised a nostalgic witty response. Brand had put the age old drama game of hot seating onto the stage. 

Brand then mimed Dancing in the Dark as Springsteen into a microphone centre stage. This was ridiculous yet entertaining and reminded me of a contestant on Stars in Their Eyes. It was as if Ira Brand was presenting herself on stage playing the made up person she wishes she could be and this person was also playing their idol. Now, if you’re still with me, I think that’s meta-meta-personality. 

Break Yourself was shown as a work in development and I would be interested to see how she shapes and sharpens her characters/personas. I wanted them to be a little less ordinary and a lot richer in personality. However, it was clear that Ira Brand, who considers herself as a performance artist, was a character in herself on stage. She was intriguing to watch and had the audience hanging off her every word, especially when she performed a particularly gripping spoken work piece about having sex with a stranger. Whether she was performing this as herself or a different character was slightly blurred. Perhaps this was purposefully done to show a confusion of identity, something she hoped to explore within her show. 

Brand was clearly unafraid of breaking down the fourth wall between the stage and the audience, and this was clear from all the cheeky glances she shot us with those ‘listen to me’ eyes of hers. She knew how to shock the audience with great comic timing which at times also made me feel slightly on edge. I think this was because it created an atmosphere of suspense within the episodic structure of her piece. She managed to create an intimate theatre setting and it was as if we were listening to a friend, which was enticing as you really felt part of the show. Brand was effortlessly funny too, especially when handing out quick fire comebacks to hecklers in the audience.

Break Yourself is about questioning what ‘being yourself’ means which I think she did successfully, but what I got most from the show was that as humans we are always yearning to be cooler, sexier and more successful, just like our idols and in Ira Brand’s case, Bruce Springsteen. 

Additional information

Christine Mears is currently in her first year at Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance studying BA (Hons) European Theatre Arts in which she is learning to perform, devise and direct. She is especially interested in physical and contemporary devised theatre and she hopes to establish her own theatre company once she graduates. Christine enjoys experiencing new things and it is her current ambition to learn and perform circus acrobatics, especially the aerial hoop! Along with theatre, she also loves to sing and she is part of the vintage cabaret singing group, The Ladies In Red.