Hampstead Theatre is home to a UK premiere at the moment as Naomi Wallace's The Breach takes up a short residency there. The first part of a planned trilogy of shows that takes place in an imagined Kentucky, The Breach explores four young people growing up in turbulent 1970s America and three of their older counterparts.
Set across two different decades with the action taking place in both 1977 and 1991, The Breach darts back and forth between timelines as the older actors deal with repercussions and revelations from their younger selves in a narrative that I couldn't help but compare to the TV series This Is Us. Exploring themes of consent, class and poverty, The Breach can be very dark in tone at times and may require trigger warnings based on the themes it talks about.
The main question the show asks is what would you do for love, with a game taking place between the four characters challenging each other to top their love. This provides the main narrative of the first act with events escalating quickly, leading to a quite troubling turn of events. Act 2 deals with the aftermath of events, with the ever-changing question of who had the upper hand during the situation (the details of which I won't mention here for more reasons than just spoiling the plot).
The heart of the show is the dynamic between brother and sister Acton and Jude, played in 1977 by Stanley Morgan and Shannon Tarbet. A complicated yet close relationship, the pair are electric with the time they spend on stage together, though their recounts of their fathers death may prove a rather strange and uncomfortable watch. Stanley channels sweet innocence as Acton who finds himself in a difficult situation, while Shannon gives a standout performance as his protective sister. Jasmine Blackborow escalates the complicated nature of the character as she plays the older version of Jude, controlling the narrative both figuratively and literally, particularly in the absence of an older version of Acton.
The remaining two characters, Hoke and Frayne are played in 1977 by Alfie Jones and Charlie Beck. Actons friends, despite Judes concerns about the nature of their friendship, they are the ones who start the game of “I topped your love”. They both do a great job playing the young teens in a natural performance. Their 1991 selves are played by Tom Lewis and Douggie McMeekin, who do a great job portraying the flawed characters but in a more grown up setting with varying degrees of maturity. Tom Lewis in particular is a standout who matches the acting masterclass whenever he spars with Jasmine Blackborow on the stage. While all seven of them made up a truly fantastic cast, I couldn’t help but notice a real lack of diversity represented on that stage.
Expertly directed by Sarah Frankcom, a fairly sparse looking stage designed by Naomi Dawson is brought to life by a great use of lighting from Rick Fisher which brings a noticeable change in setting and timelines with a simple change of colour. The high sloped stage allows some fantastic movement from Jennifer Jackson, particularly when the two siblings recreate their slow-motion falling game.
The Breach was a truly gripping watch. Fantastically written by Naomi Wallace, the brilliant cast brought her words to life in a show I couldn’t take my eyes off of. While some of the themes explored weren’t the easiest to digest, these were handled naturally and with a satisfying conclusion. This was an example of how effective the simplest of shows can be - when you have writing that good with a cast as great as this show boasts, it really does speak for itself.
A truly wonderful and thought-provoking play which drives home the notion that actions we take in our youth can carry with them consequences well into adulthood , I look forward to seeing if the remaining shows in the trilogy are able to top this.
The Breach plays at Hampstead Theatre until June 4th. Tickets from hampsteadtheatre.com
Photos by Johan Persson