It’s not only the title of the play; Biscuits For Breakfast is all that some people have to start the day, and that’s if they are lucky. The huge social and political problems the country is currently facing are delicately referenced in this story of two people who battle with their pasts and the challenge of building for a future in which the present is forever in the way. It’s a remarkable interweaving that always leave their personal stories paramount, but has the economic crisis forever present in the most subtle of ways.
A commentary on the plight of so many in society .......wonderfully entertaining and powerful
The narrative arc flows seamlessly from their initial meeting, through the development of their relationship and over their ups and downs before crashing into a crisis and ultimately coming to rest. It’s a story full of surprises and the most remarkable crescendo of intensity and passion imaginable. It trickles along an exploratory path for quite some time; perhaps a little too long, but then as circumstances and events change the momentum picks up, the mood changes and like an unexpected slap in the face there is a bewildering sense of, “Where did that suddenly come from?” as both Ben Castle-Gibb (Paul) and Boadicea Ricketts (Joanne) notch up their already compelling performances to a previously unimaginable level. The next question that comes to mind is, “Where did they pull that one from?” Never doubt, I suppose, what actors keep in reserve and have up their sleeves! Nevertheless, it comes as a shock and changes the whole atmosphere as eyes widen, mouths drop and the welling up kicks in.
The pair meet, or perhaps coincide with each other might be better, in a nightclub. Paul’s advances are clumsy and her responses blunt. A week later they both happen to be at the same gig and the pattern repeats itself, but by the end of the month Joanna steps into his flat. Cooking is the one thing about which Paul is confident; after all, he’s a chef, ambitious for his own place and to write a bestseller cookbook. Joanna never had much chance to learn the art, having moved from one foster home to another for sixteen years. Rather than destroying her, she found strength in adversity, is assertive and defensive at the same time, but most importantly she's a survivor; far tougher than Paul.
We learn his issue at the outset as we listen to an old, somewhat distorted tape of him in conversation with his father who died when he was eleven. He listens seemingly every day to one tape or another; he has a collection. The voice of his Dad (Giles King) says, ”Dream big. Bigger than I did. Got to push for something better. Promise me”. Young Paul (Rufus Flowers) says he’ll try but his Dad insists, “More than try. Promise”. He does and his father says with relief, “Can’t break a dying man’s promise.” That vow he made has haunted him every day as he's struggled and pushed to live up to it but always with the thought that he's falling short, letting him down. His loss and grief are irremediable.
Further challenges await as the pair confront destitution and despair and love and loss. The hotel they both work in closes, unemployment is rife and food is in short supply, but perhaps together they can get through it; or not. It’s in these tragically personal scenes that writer Gareth Farr skilfully and successfully extends the play into a commentary on the plight of so many in society by devising a situation filled with realism and simply dropping a reference here and there without overtly labouring the message.
Castle-Gibb and Ricketts rise to the needs of an incrementally demanding script for which Director Tessa Walker has required energy, conviction and passion on a set guaranteed to give them their healthy number of daily steps. It’s a daunting sight on entering the intimate downstairs studio of Hampstead Theatre. Designer Cecilia Carey has constructed a wooden floorboard traverse that extends from one end of the room to the other and forms Dad’s boat and multiple other locations with the addition of just a table and two chairs. It begs the question as to how two actors might possibly address the audience spread along such a length. Movement Director Rebecca Wield collaborated with Carey and between them have ensured that every inch of space is covered, creating locations and using the ends for exits and entrances so that the foreboding layout actually enhances the story. Depicting mealtimes and other events by symbolic gestures and repeated motifs also serves to focus on the message and the couple's feelings rather than the business in hand. Designers Matt Haskins on lighting and Holly Khan on sound enrich this environment with inputs that range from the pulsating disco to the lapping of waves, and through daytime and nighttime.
The play has come a long way since theatre company Just Add Milk approached Farr to write a play about food poverty and he started to volunteer in one of the three food banks in Truro to gain an understanding of how the system worked and who used it. Perhaps it's that first-hand experience and his ability to create credible and complex characters that makes Biscuits For Breakfast so wonderfully entertaining and powerful.