Review: The Breach at Hampstead Theatre

Kentucky 1977, and a game of love and loyalty takes a sinister turn in Naomi Wallace’s absorbing rights-of-passage drama

Friday, 20th May — By Lucy Popescu

The Breach

Shannon Tarbet and Alfie Jones in The Breach. PHOTO: Johan Persson

 

The Breach
Hampstead Theatre
☆☆☆

Naomi Wallace’s absorbing play opens in Kentucky in 1977 and follows the disturbing rites of passage of four teenagers. A second, connected narrative takes place in 1991. The characters are played by different actors in each period.

Jude (Shannon Tarbet) and Acton Digg (Stanley Morgan) are poor and working class. Their father has recently died in an accident on a building site caused by a faulty harness. Jude has to work two jobs to help her mother pay the bills.

She is super protective of her academically gifted, physically fragile brother, 13-year-old Acton. He’s bullied at school but has recently befriended two older boys Hoke (Alfie Jones) and Frayne (Charlie Beck) who watch his back. Naturally they both have a crush on Jude, who knows she’s “the best-looking girl in high school”.

The action takes place in the Diggs’ empty basement, perfectly captured by Naomi Dawson’s tilted platform and Rick Fisher’s shafts of light. Hoke and Frayne want to use the space for their club meetings and agree to rent it from Jude.

Things take a sinister turn when the boys initiate a game aimed at proving their love and loyalty for one another. Acton’s “sacrifice” involves his sister.

In 1991, they meet again and rake over this incident that took place on Jude’s 17th birthday. Jude (Jasmine Blackborow) has moved away and has a daughter. Hoke (Tom Lewis) owns a successful pharmaceutical company while Frayne (Douggie McMeekin) works as a plumber’s assistant.
The programme notes suggest Wallace was interested in exploring neoliberalism and the disempowerment of the poor. This is touched upon, but more attention is given to the emotional powerplay of adolescents.

The performances are stunning and the young cast bring a terrific energy to the piece. However, the themes of consent, betrayal and guilt are only partially explored and, at times, Sarah Frankcom’s pared-back production feels engulfed by Hampstead’s main stage.

Until June 4
hampsteadtheatre.com

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