Gin for Breakfast begins with a booze-soaked farewell to youth as Jen (Jessica Guise) celebrates her twenty-ninth birthday with childhood friend Robbie (Tristan Beint) Both actors are convincing as they suffer through the disappointments of getting older: Jen with her dreams of being UN Secretary General pushed into a boring city job and Robbie as the socialist musician looking for validation. While the drunken party is unfocused at times, the repartee between the two old friends feels true to life.
There’s a nice breezy intensity to the dialogue which captures the British sentiment that’s it’s fine to talk about what’s hurting as long as you’re drunk and it’s still all a little bit funny. The writing is best as its most repressed, with the characters circling around their problems. When Jen finally confesses how unhappy she is, Robbie suggestion is to eat more bananas. The potassium, he explains, will make her feel better.
The script does a good job of demonstrating just how hard it can be to battle depression. Part of misery is often that it’s directionless and who can solve a problem that you can’t put your finger on? It’s Jen who reveals most about herself and her problems, with Robbie keeping his cards close to his chest. While this picks up on the play’s central theme of depression and silence, it leaves his character seeming underdeveloped.
More disruptive is how awful Robbie is to Jen during the play’s second act. This isn’t anything inherently terrible about a badly-behaved character. People in pain are likely to lash out and there’s no fight quite like one between childhood friends. The problem is that it becomes increasingly difficult to see Robbie as Jen does, her largely decent but troubled old friend. Him screaming at her as she’s curled up on the ground sobbing looks borderline abusive.
This is especially unfortunate when paired with the ongoing saga of Jen’s awful boyfriend. It’s her fault that the boyfriend treats her so badly, Jen explains, because she won’t let herself be cared for. Watching Robbie tear her down, it’s hard not to see him as another symptom of that unhappiness. This dynamic could have been interesting but it’s not an avenue the play seems particularly willing to explore.
Still, the clever dialogue makes up for some of the missteps with character. Robbie, in particular, is very funny about life in London, all city wankers, and suburban nightmares. The play also neatly makes its point that silence makes misery fester. There’s plenty of fuel for the talks about mental health which follow the show. All in all, Gin for Breakfast is a clever and thought-provoking debut production which is certainly worth going to see.
Gin for Breakfast runs until 21 October at Tristan Bates Theatre.
★★★★ “A clever and thought-provoking debut production”
Words by Dylan Brethour