Biscuits for Breakfast (Hampstead Theatre Downstairs)

Posted: May 12, 2023 in Theatre

Photo: Alesandro Castellani

Writer: Gareth Farr

Director: Tess Walker

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Should the pleas from one generation to “do better” be a spur for members of the following generation to strive for success or a millstone round their necks? Gareth Farr’s new one-act play poses that question. Biscuits for Breakfast is a deeply touching, yet defiantly unromantic relationship drams set in a modern day Britain in which Michelin-star restaurants stand alongside food banks.

When Paul (Ben Castle-Gibb) and Joanne (Boadicea Ricketts) first meet, their defensive walks are already built, constructed out of pride and stubbornness. What divides them is more apparent than what connects them. Persistently, Paul plays tapes of conversation between his younger self and his late father, a humble fisherman, who is urging him to make a better life for himself by developing his flair for cooking. When the play begins, Paul is a trainee hotel chef and Joanne is a cleaner in the same coastal hotel, without any clear goals in life. He conjures up delicious casseroles, while she can only offer pot noodles.

The drama cooks slowly at first. The edgy flirtation is a verbal tango and then Paul invites Joanne to his place to share a fish pie. The closure of the hotel means the loss of both jobs and of Joanne’s accommodation, so she moves in with Paul, thereby sealing the relationship just at the time when the couple’s lives are about to go into free fall.

Farr begins to paint a picture of a society in which ambitions are thwarted and ordinary working people are driven into poverty by limited job opportunities, low wages and soaring inflation. Cleverly, the writer achieves this without letting the play’s focus drift away from the central human story.

Director Tess Walker’s production on a traverse stage has energy, simplicity and intensity. The two actors are superb, conveying the shifting dynamics of their characters’ relationship through turbulent times. They make Paul and Joanne real people, in most ways unremarkable, but each of them is recognisable as “one of us”.

While Paul clings on to his father’s words and his dreams of writing a best-selling cookery book, Joanne becomes the pragmatist, realising that, if the pair can no longer feast on gourmet food, they must at least eat something. Everything about Farr’s play rings true and it should serve as a wake up call to anyone who is prone to taking comfortable lifestyles for granted..

Performance date: 11 May 2023

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