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
Hampstead Theatre until 4th June
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