Sean Burnett Dugdale-Martin
The show is a multi-media production that starts with a 20-minute short film projected against the back wall. The short film is directed by Aiden Fernando, and the stage performance is co-directed by Genoveva Reverie, Bella Petrie and Bon Buchanan, with Petrie and Buchanan also performing as the two characters Ana and Reuben respectively, as well as both writing the show (film included). From the programme we know that this project has it’s themes rooted in family, food, class and the human thought process and is about two step-siblings who need to cook breakfast for their (now) joint family.
The film is used to set up the characters and who they are to each other, as well as why and how they must prepare a meal together for their family. Fernando's directing is very naturalistic; it is in real time and for the most part it is framed with a stationary camera pointed at the kitchen. At two points during the short film the camera snaps to the point of view (POV) of different characters entering the scene to speak to Ana and Reuben before they leave shortly after. Fernando's directing of the short film is engaging, as the camera being planted in one place for long periods of time lets us investigate the two players closely as they prepare their meal, often in uneasy silence. In the film, Ana and Reuben have great chemistry in their silence. Both are awkwardly trying to navigate a conversation and a task with someone they don't really know. It's a feeling pretty much everyone has experienced, and Brick Haus creates a fly-on-the-wall short film letting us experience two characters apprehensively getting through it in real time.
During the film, however, I want Fernando to continue to use some of the conventions they set up. For the first two characters that enter the scene to bother Ana and Reuben, the camera snaps to the guest’s POV. But when the third and final visitor enters (Reuben’s little sister) the camera doesn't snap to their POV, and it’s difficult to see why this was deliberately left out since (technically) little sisters are also people… perhaps it was because they weren’t a parent? This, and some cuts during the long, naturalistic kitchen shots of the two characters preparing their meal, takes me out of the experience a little. However, a strength of the short film is to have the characters with their backs to us. On stage there's a risk of losing the characters’ voices, which often means they have to speak loudly and perhaps lose a sense of intimacy with the audience. Yet, in the short film there are moments where both characters have their backs to the camera, trying to cook on their respective hobs, speaking calmly and softly, and we are there for every awkward word because it comes across alluring, as something we shouldn’t be privy to, leaning nicely into the naturalistic fly-on-the-wall style Fernando delivers.
For the stage section, we move from the naturalistic style of the film to a more post-dramatic style upon a somewhat deconstructed set which once the characters enter they do not leave. This does good things for the performance’s theme of the human thought process as it serves as a physical representation for how we mentally deconstruct situations. It isn't made exactly clear as to who or what the audience is meant to be to Ana and Reuben but we are definitely acknowledged and spoken to. This section is much quippier and more fast paced with dialogue than the film, which again adds to the physical representation because of how fast you can (over)think versus how much actually comes out of your mouth.
During the stage performance, the characters try to cook the same meal they cook in the short film, but on stage, for realsies. This is a good trick if it can be done right! Indian Ink’s Mrs Krishnan's Party (which is also a two-hander) has its performers, with some help from audience members, cook a meal on stage and I mention it because in Mrs Krishnan's Party they cook the food properly and perform during the task, whereas in Breakfast Time the food is often forgotten, resulting in a pretty sad looking egg-cake that is meant to be scrambled. Having to really focus on the cooking could have provided the cast with some awesome opportunities to create tension and drama - scrambling the eggs with growing intensity as a character is getting riled up; how easy is it to talk about different political views calmly while you've also got to make toast and stop the eggs from burning?
The script begins to go into how terrible the world is and how they, as people, have been messed up by it/their parents/themselves. It is during this conversation I am very conscious of the pre-stated-in-the-script whiteness of the characters. They don’t try and deconstruct their privilege in any new or interesting way and there isn’t anything I haven’t already heard before, therefore I think a possible next step for the show could be having POC perspectives represented within the piece that perhaps we haven’t seen so much of before in Aotearoa.
The lighting state (Graxe Hadfield) hasn’t changed since it first came on after the film until the final moment of the show. Ana and Reuben are sitting across the room from each other, each has a spotlight down onto them. The spotlights then move: one to the plate of food steaming away on the table and the other to a trolley with the equipment they used to make the food. Then lights out. It’s poignant and effective in its simplicity and shines a light on what delicious things we can make in this big messy kitchen of ours.
Altogether, this is an excellent use of a development season. Fringe is the place to experiment with what you love and this show encapsulates that kaupapa.
Breakfast Time is a part of the 2022 Fringe Festival and is on until Thursday 24th Feb at BATS Theatre. Find your tickets here.