- Hampstead Theatre
- Until June 4th
Hampstead theatre is cosy; its stage slanting downwards towards the audience, grey and completely empty. The lights go out and darkness descends. Suddenly, the stage is illuminated, and we jump into The Breach, a new play by Naomi Wallace.
The story follows Jude and the protective love she harbours for her younger brother Acton. We witness the effects of the fallout of a foolish, high-stakes game of one-upping that Acton plays with his older friends Hoke and Frayne to conform with the others. The shadow of a dark and shameful event beginning to emerge; an occurrence so dark that I did feel that at times I had to suspend my disbelief that these children, in all their naivety, could have gone through with it.
The audience are initially spirited back to 1977 where a conflict between patriotism and the growing unease at witnessing the effects of a war in Vietnam has filtered unconsciously through to a generation of children growing up. Throughout the play we flit between this time and 1991 when the grown up children reflect on their past. Here, The Breach manages to capture the surreal contrast between the harshness of reality and the innocence of the children experiencing it, as they grow to be adults and try to come to terms with newfound guilt and discomfort about their pasts.
Terrible events are juxtaposed with the banal, representing the oblivious way in which the characters experience such things as children. One striking example is when Jude and Acton play a game where they imagine their father thinking about Velveeta on rye bread as he falls through the sky to his death in an unconscious effort to cope with the cruel world their minds aren’t big enough to internalise.
The script is dotted moments of light and darker humour (risqué jokes about sexual consent), as well as sporadic solemnity. The younger Jude is brought to life through Shannon Tarbet’s fiery and touching portrayal that captures the warring emotions of a girl who must grow up too fast, as she sacrifices herself to protect her brother Acton (Stanley Morgan) from harm and struggles to decide how (and whether) to keep the awkward amorous forays of Hoke (Alfie Jones) and Frayne (Charlie Beck) at bay.
There isn’t much in the way of a set or props, give or take a blanket, an encyclopaedia or two, and Acton’s guitar. Such is the way with many modern productions, and in this character-focussed play I didn’t mind it too much. The darkness and minimalism did manage to give a sense of memories being recounted.
Overall, Wallace does offer us something in The Breach, if not through the realism of its plot, then through the reality of the way it captures the paradox of children’s lack of awareness in the grown-up world of rape, war, and death happening in the background.