A Breakfast of Eels

Theatre, Fringe
4 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

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Robert Holman's new play is a vivid, satisfying portrait of two very different men.

Like the storm which bridges its final acts, Robert Holman’s play swells, pregnant with meaning and guarded, overcast silences, before breaking into beautiful, painful torrents. A family drama that begins with two orphans on the morning of their father’s funeral, it’s built quietly from a series of counterpoints and contradictions, as two very different men play out what it means to outlive their childhoods, and what inheritances they are inevitably burdened with.

Holman’s style takes time to sink under the skin – at first the strangeness of his turns of phrase, overloaded with significance as if romantically misremembered from a vital conversation in the distant past, can be alienating, almost affronting. But soon its brilliance reveals itself: its rhythms and language may be heightened but they’re also clear and honest, they’re perfect kin for his vivid imagery: a wasp crushed into a jar with shards of windfall apple, a childish arrow fired north to Scotland in the crash of a thunderstorm.
There’s a touch of the gothic to ‘A Breakfast of Eels’, in its concern with inheritances and legitimacy, and its contrasting of the pampered urban with the wild and barefooted countryside, but there’s a thread of the classical too. Holman is literate without being laboured, he uses music and song with the same sure and deft touch he uses to swat away melodrama and ground his plotting in the truth of his characters and their lives.

No small part of its success is due to the work of Andrew Sheridan and Matthew Tennyson as the two brothers. Both are Holman stalwarts, both are immensely talented, and their empathy with the writing creates moments of unforgettable power, such as Tennyson’s euphoric paean to London, as well as a willingness to let silences speak and the play softly breathe.

It’s great work from director Robert Hastie too, and from lighting designer Nicholas Holridge in particular, creating another of the achingly handsome productions the Print Room turns out with increasing reliability at its new home in Notting Hill’s Coronet cinema. ‘A Breakfast of Eels’ may be a slippery proposition, but it’s also an immensely satisfying one.



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