Gin for Breakfast Review

Tristan Bates Theatre 26 September – 21 October.  Reviewed by Claire Roderick


Whatever Guise’s inaugural production tackles mental health with an honesty that is both brutal and compassionate.

Corporate lawyer Jen wants to save the world, with dreams of working for the UN, but she has realised that she needs to save herself first, trying to cope with her dark feelings and pain, and settling for a miserable job and even more miserable relationships, much to her childhood friend – socialist, hard-drinking musician Robbie’s disgust. He still dreams of hitting the big time with his music. Jen and Robbie’s annual encounters at Jen’s birthday party frame the narrative, with Jen opening up to Robbie about her depression. Writer Jess Moore’s dialogue is naturalistic and authentic. In the first scene, set in the garden, it feels as if you are listening over the garden fence to two people who think they know each other inside out, but don’t understand each other at all. The circular, meandering conversation veers between teasing childhood memories, lamenting their lost dreams, socialist rants, Jen trying to describe how she feels, and Robbie doing his best comedy to cheer her up without tackling the issue – as best friends do.

Jessica Guise and Tristan Beint are completely believable as the two friends. Watching Guise as Jen pulls herself together and jokes around after sharing her despair will bring a lump to your throat, and her performance in the hospital scene is devastating. Beint is wonderful as Robbie, with some superb drunk acting, spitting out his world-weary rants with relish, and throwing in some hilarious impressions and funny voices. The actors’ onstage chemistry is fantastic, with perfect timing.

Director Ryan Gage keeps things simple, keeping the focus on the actors and allowing them to shine. The set, covered with old photos of the pair behind multiple frames, reinforces the long relationship of the pair, but also highlights our skewed perceptions of friends that we see smiling in all our photos, and perhaps never think about their true feelings. Moore jumps on this issue, with Jen so focussed (and rightly so) on her own search for ways to cope and find happiness, that she doesn’t notice Robbie’s vulnerability. Moore’s writing of Robbie is instantly recognisable to anyone who has reacted with guilty shock as they realise that their funny, sarky, confident and strong friend has been screaming internally or trying to numb their own pain, without anyone noticing until they reach crisis point.

With after show talks from CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably), Gin for Breakfast’s examination of friendship and mental health is an emotionally devastating, bittersweet evening that will change (for the better) the way you look at your mates. Grab a ticket while you can