Review: Biscuits for Breakfast (Hampstead Theatre)

Just Add Milk Productions bring their new play, Biscuits for Breakfast, written by Gareth Farr and directed by Tessa Walker.

Joanne (Boadicea Ricketts) is spiky and defensive; Pau (Ben Castle-Gibb), quiet and considered. As cooking creates a bond between them, their dreams of a future together are affected by their loss of work and spiral into poverty.

Running at 100 minutes without an interval, this play has two actors on the stage with two recorded voices (dad and young Paul). These are the drivers for Paul’s ambition and pride, seeing only “do better” as his mantra and not just ‘survive’.

With themes of addiction, grief and abuse, Biscuits for Breakfast is not an easy or light watch once it gets going, and has wild changes in tone from the initial clubland dance floor on which Paul attempts to attract Joanne.

On a deceptively sparse set (designed by Cecilia Carey) of a table and two chairs, lighting (by Matt Haskins), sound (by Holly Khan) and physical movement (by Rebecca Wield) choices take us from the club to Paul’s flat, on to a draughty trawler, and on to a deserted beach with “buried treasure”.

Set in traverse on a long, thin, performance area, the sightlines are excellent throughout, and the performances pop and sizzle throughout the performance. There is a strong chemistry between Ricketts and Castle-Gibbs.

Can it stand up without an interval break? I think so, but there is a moment where I felt the play was close to a dangerous unravel and was glad to see it find its feet again with speed.

Both characters are dealing with isolation and trauma – for Joanne, a lifetime in care and being “thrown out of places”; for Paul, trapped in tape recordings of when he was a boy, oddly estranged from an unseen mum and flat-sitting for a brother abroad “somewhere like Australia”.

A clever staging choice is in having a play, so food centred, having all the meals mimed and suggested by lights, sound, and suggestion.

It works well, especially when some recipes are so tichly described and others reach into everyone’s sense of nostalgia (butterscotch Angel Delight).

Biscuits for Breakfast is set in a Cornwall affected by the depletion of its fishing and tourism strands; a story of two people who find their way through harsh circumstances.

An interesting play that can raise conspiratorial chuckles early on while digging in the heart as it progresses, this is a show that rewards close attention.

Biscuits for Breakfast continues at Hampstead Theatre’s Downstairs studio until 10 Jun: tickets here.


Image credit: Alessandro Castellani

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