The Breach: 'An uneven coming-of-age tale'

The Breach at Hampstead Theatre

SHANNON TARBET and STANLEY MORGAN in The Breach at Hampstead Theatre - Credit: Johan Persson

The Breach

Hampstead Theatre 

***

Commissioned - but never produced - by the Actor’s Theatre of Louisville, Naomi Wallace’s The Breach is a coming-of-age tale about consent.

Set in white-collar suburban America in 1977, with a reunion 14 years later to assess the damage, the play promises much but doesn’t entirely convince. There’s a rather turgid essay on neo-liberalism in the programme, but Wallace’s fierce indictment of free market politics needs no special pleading.

Mouthy, beautiful 17-year old Jude and her younger brother Acton strike a deal with school peers Hoke and sidekick Frayne: Jude will rent them their basement to use as a club headquarters on the condition they offer her asthmatic brother protection from school bullies.

Hoke can flash the cash – his family own insurance company Health First – whereas Jude and Acton need to hustle following the recent death of their father who fell from scaffolding at work, ironically at a site owned by Hoke’s father. Their single mother is significantly absent, working two jobs.

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Like in Death of a Salesman, the fear of being part of a scrabbling underclass haunts their psyches. Acton is a grade-A student but insists he needs Hoke’s family connections.

"You don’t need a string," Jude protests.

Fast-forward to 1991 and their lives are tragically predictable: Hoke has inherited the insurance company and lauds his marital happiness, Frayne can’t settle down and works as an air-conditioning engineer, Jude struggles to make ends meet. And Acton? The reunion is for his memorial gathering; he committed suicide.

Stanley Morgan and Shannon Tarbet in The Breach

Stanley Morgan and Shannon Tarbet in The Breach - Credit: Johan Persson

A raked expanse of slate-coloured blocks and delicate lighting changes conjure the basement, at other times the landscapes of the Southern mid-west. Director Sarah Frankcom takes care with the characterization and the actors are impressive, in particular Shannon Tarbet as young Jude with her proud stance and stinging delivery.

The falling scenes – Jude and Acton reenact their father’s thoughts in his dying moments – don’t ring true despite slow-mo choreography that imbues them with majesty. While the writing soars and dips, it is consistently well served in this nuanced production and the issue of consent and sexual violence is handled with impressive power.

The Breach is at Hampstead Theatre until June 4. Visit www.hampsteadtheatre.com

Shannon Tarbet and Alfie Jones in The Breach at Hampstead Theatre

Shannon Tarbet and Alfie Jones in The Breach at Hampstead Theatre - Credit: Johan Persson