Jasmine Blackborow as Jude in 1991©Johan Persson
Title: The Breach ＊＊＊
Venue: Hampstead Theatre in London
Writer: Naomi Wallace
Director: Sarah Frankcom
Designer: Naomi Dawson
Lighting designer: Rick Fisher
Sound Designer: Tingying Dong
Cast includes Charlie Beck, Jasmine Blackborow, Alfie Jones, Tom Lewis, Douggie McMeekin, Stanley Morgan, Shannon Tarbet
Until 4th June 2022
Photograph: ©Johan Persson
Running Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes, including an interval
Review by Miho Uchida
17th May 2021
Debuting at Hampstead Theatre, The Breach, by multi award-winner Naomi Wallace, who is a Yorkshire-based and Kentucky-born playwright, explores power, poverty, toxic masculinity, and their consequent victims. The play is the first part of a trilogy that takes place in a fictional place in Kentucky, USA, and unfolds a story of four teenagers: the impoverished Diggs siblings, Jude and Acton, and two other boys, Frayne and Hoke. Jude is Acton’s resilient elder sister, who takes up multiple jobs to pay half of the bills to help her mother after the father died. Hoke is an offspring of an affluent businessman who owns private healthcare enterprises while Frayne is Hoke’s sidekick, with a maimed Vietnam veteran for a brother. At school, Frayne and Hoke protect straight-A student Acton from being the victim of bullies in exchange for help with schoolwork, and this exploitative comradery sets the precedent for the darker form that their relationship takes as the play continues: a sacrificial pact leads to Jude’s double rape by Frayne and Hoke.
The scenes alternate between 1977 and the older version of the four characters in 1991, when Hoke, Frayne and Jude are re-connected following Acton’s suicide, slowly revealing the shocking act of violence alongside the haunting effects on all characters. Sandwiched between these two different periods in American history, is the 1980s Reaganism, in which deregulation was implemented in the hope that it would decrease deprivation and inequality in society. The play reinforces the downfall of this governmental plan by playing out the different lives of the Diggs siblings and the other two boys.
In spite of the powerful and shockingly distressful themes and Wallace’s relentless and vivid narrative, the First Act slightly disappoints in its rather slow pace, although it picks up gradually in the second half. Both Judes played by Shannon Tarbet (Jude ’77) and Jasmine Blackborow (Jude ’91), portray the character’s mental strength persuasively. Tarbet’s energetic and skilful dancing to Eric Clapton’s ‘Layla’ shows her fierce spirits and ability to fight back, and Blackborow’s characterisation to show a sense of toughness with calm confidence as a young adult is successful. However, both actresses are perhaps slightly too stolid and Jude’s emotional trajectory after her trauma is not portrayed well. In addition, the 17-year-old version of Jude is supposed to be a ‘Prom Queen’ but the glamour is not presented, mostly hidden under the shadow of her tough cookie character. The older version of Hoke, played by Tom Lewis, had moments of shine during his portrayal of the corrupted scion, but again, his emotion is unfortunately muted most of the time. The actors’ stolidity is not effective in dealing with emotionally traumatic themes but perhaps it is a result of Sarah Frankcom’s direction. The bare and dark oblong set, designed by Naomi Dawson, also emphasised this emotionless atmosphere.
Wallace’s play has strong messages but the production itself falls short in depicting them.
Shannon Tarbet as Jude in 1977©Johan Persson