(Note that this review contains details of an event that could be considered a spoiler. Our reviewer felt this was necessary and in context with the whole review.)
I am a big fan of Hampstead Theatre. I’ve enjoyed a number of productions both on the Main Stage and The Downstairs Studio in recent years. After seeing both shows playing last week, I was curious as to why we here at Everything Theatre had not covered a show at the venue since 2016. It turns out that no-one at ET or Hampstead Theatre can quite figure out why, but hopefully we’ll cover more over the coming months and years!
It is rather unfortunate then that we return for The Breach. The crux of this play is that in 1977, siblings Judith and Acton agree a plan for her to be drugged and gang raped. It’s all with the aim of protecting Acton from bullying. The script spends a lot of energy making the rapists sympathetic, including one telling her she was his “first and hottest”. It does not get much better from there. Couples sat on both sides of me left at the interval, the group stayed only because one person was ‘morbidly curious’ to see how it ended.
The Breach is set in the same Kentucky basement in 1977 and 1991. We only know it is a Kentucky basement because the programme tells us so. It also informs us that it is the first part of a Kentucky Trilogy – none of this appears on stage and while the cast are all speaking with convincing American accents, I’m afraid I didn’t get a Southern accent from any of them.
Shannon Tarbet gives a strong performance as Jude ’77. In fact, the performances aren’t the problem here; the cast all do well – but there is a strange disconnect in the staging. It feels like a lot of talking at each other with large gaps between actors. These gaps only narrow between Jude ‘77 and Acton, suggesting this must have been a thematic choice. It just doesn’t work. Instead, it leaves conversations all off in the distance or directed to the sides.
The stage is slanted, with part of it occasionally effective, especially when Jude and Acton recreate the incident where their dad fell to his death. The dark humour as they roll down the stage thinking of what he might have thought or seen in those last moments is well done and darkly comedic. Or maybe it was just a respite from everything else going on?
There are interesting ideas present; themes of poverty and privilege, nepotism, pharmaceuticals, insurance and ‘Big Pharma’. But most of these get short shrift, simply underlying contributors to the main theme of consent, or lack thereof, and the lengths someone will go to protect their family. All are good themes, all could make for good drama – they don’t here.
I found myself sitting there shaking my head, irritated and frustrated, And it just got worse as the second half went on. I’d really have to suggest the whole thing needs a serious rethink. Hopefully next time we’re back at Hampstead Theatre it will be for a much more enjoyable play.
Written by Naomi Wallace
Directed by Sarah Frankcom
Produced by Hampstead Theatre UK
The Breach plays at Hampstead Theatre until 4 June. Further information and bookings can be found here.