It was to be a small cast, seven in all, playing in a confined space, reacting to situations in a way which could not be selected for them, but where the characters they portrayed were deeper extensions of themselves.
The plot itself has a seemingly simple formula. Six men are prospecting for radium "for the benefit of research and humanity in general", in the bleak Arctic lands of Canada. They dwell in a hut, now buried twenty feet under snow and ice. During the course of the play, one of the explorers, the son of the man who financed the expedition, disappears. Suspicion of foul-play is inevitable, but apart from the final revelation of the identity of the son's assailant, which makes full use of its dramatic potential, the audience is able to witness the traumatic effect on men of differing interests of virtual isolation from humanity.
The play gave opportunities to the actors to create and present their own interpretations of reactions to a situation of high-level tension in a claustrophobic atmosphere, heightened by everyone's personal interests which were to be protected even at the expense of a friend. It was the creation of this tension the proved to be the greatest problem, since it was so essential to the understanding and enjoyment of the play to convey this to the audience. To achieve this, a complete change from off-stage friendship to a new and previously unseen facet of each actor's personality was adopted. In this way Anthony Palmer was no longer Anthony Palmer but Steven Granger, Expedition leader and dedicated explorer. The strength of his characterisation was such that it even became obvious in his behaviour off-stage. Colin Clubbe portrayed, with great effect, the brilliant scientist Paul Ormiston, whose susceptibility to drink made him the most vulnerable of all the crew. Michael Devery became the young, inexperienced explorer, Peter Holt, who hoped to become a successful writer. He was accused of homosexuality by the snivelling boss's son, David Forbes, played by Noel Russel, which involved being beaten up by the rest of the crew on two occasions for his sly innuendoes and cutting remarks. In the end, we find that it was his father, Raymond Forbes, the self-made millionaire, ably portrayed by Stephen Martin, who made David what he was, and that all David's actions were indirectly aimed at his father. The whole expedition had, in fact, been financed with the object of "making a man of David", since it was he who was the homosexual, although his father refused to recognise this. The part of the cook, Mike Landers, was very capably handled by newcomer to the stage Michael Murphy, who suffered from remarkably few nerves. John Woof was allowed to grow his own beard so as to convincingly play the part of Danny Gronshaw, and the scene where Danny is almost killed in a snowstorm provided a suitable vehicle for his acting talents.
Rehearsing, sometimes twice a day, for three months, attending every rehearsal, made it very easy to become apathetic and complacent. Words were learnt relatively early on, and movement in the confined space of one room can be rather restricted. The set, however, proved a great help in retaining the interest of the boys in the Arctic.
The play ran for three nights in December, but despite the degree of excellence achieved by the actors, stage crew and lighting crew, the attendances at all three performances left a lot to be desired and, indeed, did not seem to justify the amount of work put into making Breaking Point a dramatic success. It was well received by the Press, and the reason for the poor attendances is thought to be that, with the departure of our better-known actors, so departed the faith of our audiences in the Salvatorian Dramatic Society.
M. Devery L.6