Award-winning playwright, Naomi Wallace’s play at the Hampstead Theatre, is dark, thought-provoking, and not entirely convincing.
The Breach is the first part of a trilogy. It examines the lives and development of white teenagers from different social backgrounds in Kentucky, USA. Set in the Diggs’ family basement, in two separate time periods, the play explores friendship in 1977 and then revisits the theme in 1991.
That friendship is tested in the confined yet open subterranean space, devoid of furniture or comfort. Jude Diggs (Shannon Tarbet), a sixteen-year-old Prom Queen, is a popular and much-admired beauty at school. Her whip-smart thirteen-year-old younger brother Acton Diggs (Stanley Morgan), writes essays for the affluent sixteen-year-old Hoke and his friend, Frayne. In return, the boys protect Acton from the bullies at school. This transactional arrangement appears to suit the boys, who all appear to benefit. But it is an uneasy equilibrium. Jude and Acton live with their mother who has struggled to keep the family together since the tragic death of their father. Money is scarce and Jude has to shoulder some of her mother’s burdens. Hoke and Frayne admire and desire Jude.
The meeting that takes place fourteen years later, in 1991, is an electrifying exploration of what can happen when the power dynamics of friendship shift. Selfishness, compromised morality, betrayal, and disregard for the pain inflicted, undermine the balance of friendship, resulting in guilt, and bereavement.
The crop of older actors, performing the 1991 scenes, is compelling: Jasmine Blackborow, an older Jude, is a Queen without a crown, subdued yet resolute. Tom Lewis’s Hoke, now a family man, comfortably working for his father’s business empire, is convincing as a self-centred man of means, who uses others, believing he is helping them. Douggie McMeekin’s Frayne stands in for the middle class, where wealth is neither abundant nor lacking. Frayne is the voice of hope and the social conscience – of all those who uphold moral principles that sustain a healthy society.
Sarah Frankcom’s direction is rather muted. The first part of the play is devoid of any dramatic tension – as a result, one is left apathetic towards the fate of the characters. This is a pity, as the text of the play is alive with tension and drama.
Overall, worth seeing with some good performances, which are also occasionally excellent.
- By Naomi Wallace
- Director: Sarah Frankcom
- Photograph: Johan Persson
- Cast includes Charlie Beck, Jasmine Blackborow, Alfie Jones, Tom Lewis, Douggie McMeekin, Stanley Morgan, Shannon Tarbet
- Hampstead Theatre
- Until 4th June 2022
- Running Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes, including one interval
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