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Review of Gin For Breakfast at Tristan Bates Theatre

Gin For BreakfastIt’s booze and balloons, at least to begin with, as Jen (Jessica Guise) marks her twenty-ninth birthday with her good friend Robbie (Tristan Beint). For some reason, Gin for Breakfast starts with both characters sat on the floor on an unraised stage. If first impressions count, and I happen to believe they do, then having impaired sightlines from anywhere further back from the first couple of rows as soon as the lights come up and the show begins is something productions in smaller performance spaces (and indeed larger ones, for that matter) need to try to avoid. But, as the show’s programme is keen to point out, Gin for Breakfast is the inaugural production for Whatever Guise Productions, so there is scope for tolerance and understanding.

Fortunately or unfortunately this rarely extends to Robbie, who bizarrely continues to rant and take the moral high ground, proverbially kicking Jen when she is both physically and metaphorically on her knees. In some ways, I liked the lack of sentimentality, but it all seemed too extreme after a while – and repetitive. Such is Robbie’s sarcasm and bitterness that it was difficult to feel much, if any, sympathy for him, whatever underlying problems there were. A lot of passive-aggressiveness swirls around, which admittedly provides moments of comic relief in what would otherwise be a relentlessly melancholy, ‘woe is me’.

The script follows a conventional arc, common in contemporary drama, where events tick over reasonably happily, before a sudden critical incident occurs that has a very substantial impact on the play’s characters. The difference here is that the big moment doesn’t take place until well into the second half. I’m not sure the play ever did get to the bottom of why the critical incident happened, and I felt it indicative of the shallowness of Robbie as a person that he is so eloquent in his analysis of the worlds of those around him, Jen included, but is either unable or unwilling to answer a simple yes/no question from Jen with regards to his own personal circumstances.

The dialogue has a natural and conversational feel to it. With all other characters being off-stage, this two-hander does well to present both perspectives. Robbie turns out to be quite the impressionist, with an Attenborough-esque commentary on aspects of human behaviour early on, and later, a hilarious parody of sharp-suited, cufflink-wearing City workers. The first long scene is, to be blunt, unfocused and meandering. It does somewhat entertain, however, in the sense that it comes across as though it were a late night discussion between friends in which the world is put to rights. Still, I would rather be a participant in such a gathering than a spectator of one.

Jen readily admits struggling to cope with the stresses and strains of modern living. Reasons for her keeping on wanting to have gin for breakfast, thereby repeatedly name-dropping the show’s title, were ambiguous, at least to me. In highlighting the problems of depression and suicide, the play offers few, if any, solutions, aside from the coping strategy of making do and muddling through as always, which felt a little anti-climactic.

It’s unquestionably a good effort for a debut production, choosing hard-hitting themes and presenting them in a convincing way. Given what goes on, there is a recurring (but far from constant) feeling that one ought not to be laughing at the play’s punchlines. Either way, the issues raised in this production are done so subtly, without coming across as contrived or preachy. An intriguing show with plenty of food for thought.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

When your dreams implode, why not?
Childhood friends, Jen and Robbie, are all grown-up now and galaxies away from where they imagined they would be. With their world-views set on a collision course, and their dreams imploding, Jess Moore’s debut play – Gin for Breakfast – explores whether or not they can save themselves, and each other. And, when everything’s just star-stuff, does it matter?

Robbie Tristan Beint
Jen Jessica Guise

Writer Jess Moore
Director Ryan Gage
Designer Erica Hemminger

Whatever Guise Productions presents Gin For Breakfast
Tue 26 September – Sat 21 October 2017


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