Review: Necessity at the Bread and Roses

Brighton-based Broken Silence Theatre bring their latest production, Necessity, to Clapham’s Bread and Roses following a sell-out run at last year’s Brighton Fringe. Inspired by a real event, Paul Macauley’s play tells the story of Patrick and Mish, a young couple faced with an impossible decision when a letter intended for their next door neighbour is delivered to their flat in error. Their ensuing struggle to decide what to do with its potentially explosive contents, whilst carefully observing – and judging – their neighbours’ troubled marriage, reveals hidden tensions in their own relationship that they might have preferred to keep buried.

This suburban drama is quietly intense, with a few surprises along the way and a twist ending that simultaneously brings the story back to where it started and leaves us dangling off a cliff. It’s a story about appearance versus reality – both couples are doing what they think society expects of them: buy a house; get a job; have a family. But it turns out doing what’s expected isn’t always the secret to happiness, and both relationships bear cracks hidden only just beneath the surface, waiting to be uncovered by something as seemingly innocuous as a letter.

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The characters are complex and surprising; there’s nothing predictable about this play. Alex Reynolds makes a brief but memorable appearance as the letter-writer, a vital role that lights the touch paper and leaves it to burn. Will Anderson, a new addition to the established cast as Stephen, captures the weary resignation of the henpecked husband – but our sympathetic view of him is marred by the early revelation of his secret past. And Vicky Winning is easy to hate as the stuck-up Veronika, although she too catches us off guard early on with a moment of kindness that doesn’t quite gel with the thoroughly nasty piece of work she ultimately turns out to be.

Mish and Patrick seem like a happy enough couple as they share relaxed, light-hearted banter after a long day – but it doesn’t take long for old tensions to resurface. Aspiring jewellery maker Mish wears her heart on her sleeve, and is easily the most likeable of the four main characters because of that; Cerys Knighton slips from joking around to anger to total heartbreak without hesitation. But perhaps the most intriguing performance comes from Tim Cook as Patrick, simply because it’s impossible to tell from one moment to the next if he’s a loving husband or a bit of a psycho. Or maybe both.

One little niggle: it was sometimes hard to keep track of the story’s timeframe. There’s a suggestion that the action’s taking place over a matter of weeks, but that’s hard to process when one minute the neighbours are enjoying a summer barbecue, wearing shades and complaining about the heat, and the next they’re wrapped up in jumpers and winter coats. It’s a small detail, but noticeable enough to be distracting (to me, anyway; these are the sorts of things I worry about).

Simply staged and sensitively written, Necessity is a play that touches several pressure points about modern life (career, family, class, the awkwardness of socialising with your neighbours) while still keeping us entertained and in suspense until the end. And while most of us will never find ourselves facing this particular scenario, the play nonetheless leaves its audience with plenty to think about.


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Review: Day Job at the Bread and Roses Theatre

Guest review by Ross McGregor

Written and directed by Evi Stamatiou, this is the first production from Fanny Pack Theatre, an all-female collective founded by Rachel Scurlock and Maria Alexe. Their company seeks to produce “contemporary stories about contemporary women”, and has been set up to tackle theatrical gender inequality. In a recent interview with The Stage, the co-founders said they wished to focus on working with women who are “outside the industry norm”, and although this is perhaps a lofty way of saying “give character actors a chance”, Day Job proves that the actresses in this project should be anything but overlooked.

Photo credit: Minglu Wang
Photo credit: Minglu Wang

Constructed as a series of interlocking tales about the lives of four female artists struggling to make ends meet in modern day London, Fanny Pack Theatre have created an energised, vibrant, engaging and at times hilarious piece of new writing. The device that links the narratives is the fact that all four women share the same bus journey to work, and scenes switch and intersect with ease thanks to Minglu Wang’s simple yet effective (and entirely blood-red) set. There is a degree of physical theatre and symbolised movement that is incorporated more or less well into the piece and melds fluidly with the more script-based moments.

Of the three stories, Maria Alexe’s songstress French teacher stands out as the highlight. The tale of a woman needing to get to a potentially life-changing audition whilst being stuck between a gaggle of remedial students and an overbearing teaching supervisor was played to perfection by Maria Alexe, and the fact that it involved a degree of comfortable audience participation made it all the more enjoyable. As Alexe’s frustration and desperation with her predicament grew, so in turn did the hilarity of the scene, and for me it was the highlight of the production. 

Because unfortunately the other tales, one of baby-stealing escort service and a receptionist-murdering Devil Wears Prada rip-off were far too absurd and long-winded to maintain the laughter. With the French Class tale, it seemed obvious what we were in for: an hour of semi-autobiographical tales of the plight of being a part-time actress/full-time barmaid, but then shortly afterwards the subsequent stories descend into surreal tales from the underworld, with an infernal and demonic escort agency (with their contact phone number even ending in 666 we wave goodbye to subtlety) owning the rights to every baby their escorts produce, and a team of receptionists for “Dirty Business Inc.” (a company along the lines of Enron one assumes) being slaughtered by their line manager as the police break down the doors. The jokes started to flag here, and the characters, whilst ably held up by the talented cast, are just too two-dimensional and grotesque to warrant concern.  It’s also a shame that the writer/director/devisers picked sex worker as a generic female job – surely this experience is not as widespread and relatable as teaching, bus driving or receptionist? This decision is so clichéd that it feels like Fanny Pack are actually promoting the theatrical views their company attests to strive against. A misstep here, to my mind.

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Photo credit: Minglu Wang

These script qualms aside, it is the cast that deserve the highest praises. Switching from role to role in a matter of seconds, handling pathos and comedy with a clear aptitude, this quartet of actress prove that they’re a force to be reckoned with. Rachel Scurlock chews the scenery in every role she assumes, and is a complete delight to watch – she steals every scene and comes complete with an electricity in her eyes that makes her almost impossible to stop watching. Maria Alexe has a sultry, captivating and vivacious presence on stage, as well as a truly beautiful singing voice. Clare Langford is perhaps the most introverted and demure of the group, though this may be due to the selection of roles she’s given, and thrives when she is given the opportunity. Out of the four, Langford is the most underused, and this is a shame as she seems capable of tackling so much more than the material she was given. Stephanie Merulla as the enigmatic bus driver is the heart of the piece and holds the shows thematically together with a wry and knowing delivery, knowing how to hold back when needed and sharply point every punchline she’s given. 

Day Job is an entertaining night out held together by four very talented young women. The script needs work in terms of its focus, but the performers deal with this ably, allowing their natural talent and creativity shine through.

Find out more about Fanny Pack Theatre on their website.


Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉