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How to Hold Your Breath at the Royal Court

16 March 2015

In our third and final special feature on new works at the Royal Court Theatre, London, BBC Arts takes an in-depth look at How to Hold Your Breath - the theatre’s second highest-grossing show ever. Starting with a seemingly innocent one-night stand, this darkly witty play from Zinnie Harris explores our recent European history through a magically ambiguous landscape. Harris, director Vicky Featherstone and lead actor Maxine Peake discuss the production and, below, we present in-depth deconstructions of key scenes from the play.

How to Hold Your Breath

Actor Maxine Peake, writer Zinnie Harris and director Vicky Featherstone discuss the play

The story begins with a sexual encounter between customer relations executive Dana (Maxine Peake) and Jarron (Michael Shaeffer), who claims to be a demon.

Dana’s world gradually breaks down as she travels to Berlin for a job interview and then Alexandria, accompanied by her pregnant sister Jasmine (Christine Bottomley) – while Europe goes into financial collapse.

Dana and the Librarian (pic: Manuel Harlan)

Along the way Dana is guided by a mysterious character known as the Librarian (Peter Forbes), who supplies her with a series of ‘how to’ books.

Here director Vicky Featherstone and writer Zinnie Harris have broken down three key scenes from the play with lead actors Peake and Shaeffer, offering a detailed analysis. You can also watch the complete finished scenes.

About the production

How to Hold Your Breath is at the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs at the Royal Court until 21 March 2015.

Jasmine: CHRISTINE BOTTOMLEY

Interviewer/Punter: NEIL D’SOUZA

Librarian: PETER FORBES

Interviewer/Marta/Telephone Operator: SIOBHÁN MCSWEENEY

Dana: MAXINE PEAKE

Interviewer/Doctor/Clara: DANUSIA SAMAL

Jarron: MICHAEL SHAEFFER

Writer: ZINNIE HARRIS

Director: VICKY FEATHERSTONE

Designer: CHLOE LAMFORD

Lighting Designer: PAULE CONSTABLE

Music: STUART EARL

Sound Designer: GARETH FRY

Movement Director: ANN YEE

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