Biscuits for Breakfast at Hampstead Theatre
Award-winning theatre and screenwriter Gareth Farr comes together again with director Tessa Walker to bring the stunning production of Biscuits for Breakfast to Hampstead Theatre. The plot tells a messily intertwined story of poverty, love, loss and, above all, the unmatched art of cooking.
The stage setup is simple, with only two chairs, a wooden table and a tape recorder set down on the surface to entertain the audience’s eyes upon entering the theatre. The lighting is dim and mysterious, with blues, pinks and purples dancing across the long screen that winds above the stage.
The play opens with the sweet yet eerie sound of a tape taking us back to a conversation between young Paul and his father. This recording is accompanied by soft music, darkened lighting, and Ben Castle-Gibb playing present-day Paul with troubled expressions, foreshadowing the reveal of his character’s complicated relationship with his dad’s alcoholism.
With only two actors in the entire production, Joanne, played by Boadicea Ricketts, makes her entrance shortly after this. The duo maintain excellent chemistry that makes the witty banter seem natural and authentic as their characters’ romantic relationship develops. Ricketts and Castle-Gibb successfully lock us into their intimate world with raw emotion screaming out of their expressions and body language. It’s impossible not to be moved by how real this all seems, as one is made to feel like a fly on the wall peering down into a couple’s relationship and observing the struggles they face when they fall into poverty.
One particularly moving scene features a domestic between Joanne and Paul; Ricketts brings tears to the audience’s eyes as she screams and spits, almost on the verge of hysteria. The makeup streaming down her face in long, black streaks connects us just that little bit more, creating the perfect insight into how these characters are really feeling.
The theme of food and cooking is consistently recognised throughout – enough so that it is not lost behind the focus of any other ideas. Walker’s direction for the actors to breathe in the food, as opposed to really eating it, proves an effective way to create the sensation of being in touch with the characters’ senses and tasting what they taste.
Farr’s writing builds up the plot so that the heightened strain between the protagonists at the end of the play strikes a dramatic chord with the audience. At times, the tension seems to go on for too long, leaving the audience feeling emotionally exhausted from these interactions.
Nonetheless, the production is overall beautifully bought to life by the actors under the direction of Walker, the three working together to successfully encapsulate an indelible experience that drips with raw emotion and leaves an impression long after the play has finished.
Photo: Alessandro Castellani
Biscuits for Breakfast is at Hampstead Theatre from 5th May until 10th June 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.