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Gin for Breakfast review at Tristan Bates Theatre, London – ‘stylish debut play on mental health issues’

Jessica Guise in Gin for Breakfast Jessica Guise in Gin for Breakfast. Photo: Ben Morse
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It comes as no surprise that Gin For Breakfast began life as a writing exercise as much as a play. Author Jess Moore wanted to say something about the nature and disparity of depression and this tightly crafted debut play speaks fluently on the subject. Robbie and Jen have been friends since school but their lives have taken very different trajectories. Robbie is a heavy-drinking socialist motivated by the prospect that his band might get somewhere, whereas Jen is a corporate lawyer, mired in middle-class dilemmas and man problems. Over the years they meet sporadically, with Jen using Robbie as a sounding board for her problems.

Jessica Guise and Tristan Beint in Gin for Breakfast
Jessica Guise and Tristan Beint in Gin for Breakfast. Photo: Ben Morse

Moore’s easy, naturalistic dialogue ricochets between the two, exploring their emotional bond with insight and an offbeat sense of humour. It’s a fascinating, if occasionally frustrating duologue. Jen divulges everything about her personal demons, while Robbie keeps his cards much closer to his chest. This character occasionally seems underwritten and yet it feels right for the over-arching message of Moore’s play, about how the person we least expect may be suffering the most.

The dialogue is given greater weight by two instinctive performances from Jessica Guise as Jen and Tristan Beint as Robbie. The sense of intimacy and trust between these two actors propels the play forward to its bittersweet conclusion with unquestionable honesty, while director Ryan Gage maintains a necessary lightness of touch. Erica Hemminger’s composite set echoes fragments of their story in a backdrop of frames and photos, sympathetically lit by Christopher Nairne’s atmospheric lighting design.

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Stylish, emotionally dense debut play on mental health issues