Tag Archives: Barry McStay



King’s Head Theatre

BREEDING at the King’s Head Theatre


“McStay’s dialogue is electric”

Breeding succeeds in finding a rare balance of sparky wit and thought-provoking poignancy.

It follows a gay couple as they navigate the steps in the adoption process. It’s a three hander – charming, flirty Zeb (Dan Nicholson) kind, anxious Eoin (Barry McStay, who’s also the writer) and their social worker (Nemide May) who becomes far more tangled in this couple’s life, than any of them expected.

It’s slickly directed by Tom Ratcliffe. Short snappy scenes are punctuated with upbeat music and smartly rearranged colourful blocks.

McStay’s dialogue is electric, cleverly painting the nuanced dynamics between the couple and their respective views on fatherhood. For me, the ending was too neat, and there were a couple of moments which felt particularly convenient, but the strength of the characters pulls through these slightly obvious beats.


“Nicholson shines as Zeb and the chemistry between him and McStay is delightful.”

The play is informative about the adoption process, emphasising the shocking levels of scrutiny potential parents are put under. It steers clear of feeling didactic but is an interesting insight for those who aren’t aware of the intensity of the process.

Nicholson shines as Zeb and the chemistry between him and McStay is delightful. They are fully realised, complex characters whose relationship feels truthful and compelling. May is strong as Beth, though it is a difficult part, as so much of her role is facilitating the drama, not being at the centre of it.

Ruby Law’s set is fun and clever. The wall is painted in block primary colours, with pages from the adoption workbook printed onto them. Three of the coloured blocks, which make up the movable set, have light up neon numbers – helping to clarify each of the three stages of the adoption process. It’s well thought out and joyous, with a sharp undertone – in keeping with the play itself.

This was my first visit to the new King’s Head venue, which opened earlier this year and is a far cry from the familiar back of the pub space which we all knew and loved. This is a more sterile, glossy theatre, but crucially with a larger, more versatile performance space. If Breeding is anything to go by, it marks an exciting new era for the space and I look forward to seeing what else is coming up.


BREEDING at the King’s Head Theatre

Reviewed on 25th March 2024

by Auriol Reddaway

Photography by Ed Rees




Previously reviewed at this venue:

TURNING THE SCREW | ★★★★ | February 2024
EXHIBITIONISTS | ★★ | January 2024
DIARY OF A GAY DISASTER | ★★★★ | July 2023
THE BLACK CAT | ★★★★★ | March 2023
THE MANNY | ★★★ | January 2023
FAME WHORE | ★★★ | October 2022
THE DROUGHT | ★★★ | September 2022
BRAWN | ★★ | August 2022
LA BOHÈME | ★★★½ | May 2022
FREUD’S LAST SESSION | ★★★★ | January 2022



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VAULT Festival 2020

The First

Pit – The Vaults

Reviewed – 11th February 2020



“one small step at the VAULT Festival, but it must surely be destined for a giant leap to something much bigger”


You would hardly expect one of the small venues at the VAULT Festival to host an epic, but Barry McStay’s “The First” offers a space odyssey that deserves a universe of stars.

This 60-minute two-hander features two astronauts on the first crewed space mission to Mars hoping to make history. Back home a war of the words breaks out about the Martian expedition, with two writers battling to produce a speech suitable for the US President to praise its success – and another to deliver should it fail.

The play was inspired by the famous speech given by President Nixon when Apollo 11 saw the first men land on the Moon in 1969 and the alternative version which praised the crew’s sacrifice in the event of a fatality – much in the news over the 50th anniversary of the mission last year.

McStay’s rich and heart-stirring script probes a possible future scenario that feels all too real and credible with its clever parallel dramas of the eager astronauts discovering things starting to go wrong with their vessel only days away from touchdown on the Red Planet and two imaginative writers tussling with words of triumph or remorse.

In just an hour the tightly-written play manages to consider heroism, positivity in the face of danger, a depth of human relationships, coping with tragedy and humanity’s innate desire to explore beyond frontiers.

Playing all four roles are Katrina Allen and Daniel Ward, with barely a heartbeat marking the switch from the space travellers to the writers. Multi-role playing is never easy, but the two actors manage it effortlessly.

Allen is the all-American no-nonsense astronaut Rose, who envisages her face being carved on the side of a mountain to commemorate her fame. She gave up a boyfriend in favour of making the trip and Allen captures this personal sacrifice alongside the excitement the character feels at being a pioneer.

Her colleague on-board is the gay black Englishman Simeon, who Ward plays with authority. His wake-up music on the ship is the theme to “2001” (hers is Europe’s “The Final Countdown”) and he wants a school named after him . There are some fabulous moments where the pair discuss the fact that everything they do on Mars will be “the first…” yet both recognise the emotional effects of knowing that no other human beings have ever been so far apart from other humans.

Ward is also the brash and experienced political hack Marcus, forced to work on the two possible scripts with celebrated screenwriter Alisha (Allen), whose successful TV show has just been cancelled by the network.

Allen and Ward work together splendidly throughout, arguing a liberal vs conservative political agenda while developing a grudging respect for one another as the writers and keeping spaceboots solidly on terra firma as the trailblazing astronauts.

Director Emily Jenkins makes every second count, keeping an energetic pace without losing important moments of silence and reflection. Movement director Mikey Brett manages to make the astronauts look weightless, with adroit use of minimal props and set (Delyth Evans’ two tables and two chairs are skilfully utilised on an appropriately claustrophobic traverse stage with a large red disc on one wall representing Mars).

“The First” is one small step at the VAULT Festival, but it must surely be destined for a giant leap to something much bigger with a potential stage or screen production that will be out of this world.


Reviewed by David Guest

Photography by Alessandra Davison


VAULT Festival 2020



Click here to see all our reviews from VAULT Festival 2020