Tag Archives: Hampstead Theatre

The Breach

The Breach

★★★

Hampstead Theatre

The Breach

Hampstead Theatre

Reviewed – 12th May 2022

★★★

 

“The performances are uniformly magnificent: honest and brutal. Yet it stops just short of drawing us in emotionally”

 

Towards the end of Naomi Wallace’s “The Breach”, the joint protagonist, Jude, is imagining a version of the past that didn’t happen, but could have. It takes a while to get there but the scene encapsulates both the power and impotence of hindsight. The characters wrestle with regret, bereavement and guilt, but more so with the question of whether that could have been avoided had they acted differently.

The play jumps between 1977 and 1991, initially as two very different worlds but gradually they overlap and the two separate decades bear witness to each other. Set against a completely bare stage there is little to differentiate the two ages. Different actors play the younger and older versions of the characters. Between the scenes a stark line of white light sweeps the stage, brushing them away like skittles to replace them with their counterparts.

We begin in the seventies, in small town America, a time of restlessness, turbulence, political scandal and a questioning of traditional authority (there are extensive, weighty articles in the programme notes depicting the profound effects on the American youth of the Vietnam War and ‘Neoliberalism’ – although not touched upon at all in the script). Seventeen-year-old Jude (Shannon Tarbet) has taken it upon herself to protect her younger brother Acton (Stanley Morgan). They spend their days in the basement of their modest home creating their own world. Frayne (Charlie Beck) and Hoke (Alfie Jones) gate-crash this world – not so much friends of Acton but emotional racketeers. Conditions are laid and sacrifices must be made. Inevitably the bond between brother and sister is snapped in two. In hindsight, the love they shared that could have prevented this is the exact same love that caused it.

So, you cannot escape the actions of the past then. But can you learn from them? Tellingly there is no casting for the older Acton, but Jude (Jasmine Blackborow), Frayne (Douggie McMeekin) and Hoke (Tom Lewis) reconvene fourteen years later. As each snapshot of 1991 plays out onstage, more is revealed of the dangerous games the teenagers played, focusing on many issues – most notably sexual consent. A lot is said today about how it was a ‘different time’, back then. But accountability (rightly or wrongly) has no limits. As these thirty-somethings examine their past, one wonders who the victims and who the culprits are. And are the intervening years of guilt and atonement enough or should further punishment be executed? This play, while never giving us a succinct answer, suggests we punish ourselves enough. There are no winners.

Sarah Frankcom’s sharp and efficient direction matches Wallace’s writing which is as penetrative as ever. The performances are uniformly magnificent: honest and brutal. Yet it stops just short of drawing us in emotionally. We don’t quite see the fragility, fear and loneliness that lies beneath the rough exterior. Which is a shame, and a surprise. Based partially on past experience, it seems that Wallace has poured a lot of her own heart into the writing; but ultimately it appeals more to the intellect than to our hearts.

 

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Johan Persson

 


The Breach

Hampstead Theatre until 4th June

 

Recently reviewed at this venue:
Night Mother | ★★★★ | October 2021
The Forest | ★★★ | February 2022
The Fever Syndrome | ★★★ | April 2022

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

THE FEVER SYNDROME

The Fever Syndrome

★★★

Hampstead Theatre

THE FEVER SYNDROME

The Fever Syndrome

Hampstead Theatre

Reviewed – 5th April 2022

★★★

 

“there isn’t a weak performance in the whole cast”

 

Alexis Zegerman’s new play, The Fever Syndrome, set in New York, is about a driven, intellectual family dealing with life changing illness. Front and centre in the drama is patriarch Richard Myers, living with the last stages of Parkinson’s. His only grandchild, Lily, suffers from a mysterious genetic disease characterized by high fevers. In both cases, though in very different ways, both grandfather and grandchild are afflicted by diseases that are literally attacking their chances at life. It turns out that their family, rife with internecine rivalry, is also attacking people’s chances at life, despite the display of liberal politics and cutting edge business ideas. Zegerman’s play does capture much of the authenticity of American family life, at least in New York City, but many Americans may feel that it takes more than a dogged commitment to the Mets baseball team to make Richard Myers a truly sympathetic character. The Fever Syndrome is disappointing, ultimately, since it is unclear who we are supposed to be rooting for.

The Fever Syndrome is a long play. Unnecessarily long. It’s the sort of drama that Netflix would divide into several episodes, and we’d all be grateful for the break between the intense scenes that characterize unfinished business between father and children. Scenes that draw in partners — both established, and new to the family dynamics — and all the children, past and present, that present in flickering movements, both real and surreal. In the constant upheaval, it’s easy to lose track of the event that has gathered the family together, and which marks the starting point for this sprawling plot. Richard Myers has been awarded the equivalent of a Nobel Prize for his work in IVF (which produced the so called “test tube babies”) allowing infertile couples to have children of their own. In the living room of Richard’s New York brownstone is a space dedicated to all the families he has helped to create. It is ironic, therefore, that his own family is constantly on the brink of disintegration. The Fever Syndrome is, at its heart, about a groundbreaking scientist who brought all these children into the world but couldn’t raise his own. And despite the scientific gloss — the references to RIchard’s work, and later, the diseases that are systematically and relentlessly destroying his life and Lily, his granddaughter’s life —this is what the play is about. Another American family, rent from within by toxic parent child relationships, and playing out psycho-logical dramas that hint at Sophoclean proportions, on their living room floors. This is overly familiar territory, despite all the contemporary trimmings.

Director Roxana Silbert has assembled a cast brimming with talent, and a terrific design team for The Fever Syndrome. Robert Lindsay, as Richard, does, like the character he plays, award worthy work. Lindsay plays the fractious father and Parkinson’s sufferer so well that it is easy to forget that he manages comedy, and musicals, just as effortlessly. He is well matched by Alexandra Gilbreath, playing Richard’s third wife, Megan. Both actors are completely in command of the layered, complex characters that Zegerman has created. But then, there isn’t a weak performance in the whole cast. The adult children, Dot (Lisa Dillon), Thomas (Alex Waldmann) and Anthony (Sam Marks) play out their rivalries in ways that shift the audience’s sympathies from one to the other like watching an intense tennis match. Their partners Nate (Bo Poraj) and Philip (Jake Fairbrother) watch from the sidelines until they can take no more. And at the still centre of the family storm is teenager Lily (Nancy Allsop) and, from time to time, the mysterious young Dot (Charlotte Pourret Wythe) who can only be seen by Richard. The set, designed by Lizzie Clachan, is also award worthy, making the most of the Hampstead Theatre’s stage to create a fitting backdrop to this complicated family’s dynamics. There is much to admire in this production, despite its length, and the lack of a satisfying ending.

 

Reviewed by Dominica Plummer

Photography by Ellie Kurttz

 


The Fever Syndrome

Hampstead Theatre until 30th April

 

Recently reviewed at this venue:
Big Big Sky | ★★★★ | August 2021
Night Mother | ★★★★ | October 2021
The Two Character Play | ★★★★ | July 2021
The Forest | ★★★ | February 2022

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews