Trisha Duffy makes her writing debut with Broken Biscuits. The story tells of Rita (Leanne Martin) and Maggie (Jane Hogarth), both with sons in the armed forces. Rita’s son was killed in Afghanistan protecting Maggie’s son and their friendship has been torn apart. The whole play occurs on either side of Rita’s front door as Maggie tries to pick the pieces of her friend up off the floor.
Duffy writes honest and simple dialogue between the two women in this no-frills production. Rita sits on one side of the door with a bottle of whisky, swallowing pills as though they were sweets; Maggie sits on the other side in a party outfit covered by a dressing gown and swigging a bottle of rosé. But Duffy’s writing speaks volumes with its simplicity. These are not women of standing, upper class women in high powered jobs. These are working class women who take joy in office parties and holidays to Morecambe. These are the women whose sons dreamed of making a difference by serving their country and who have paid the ultimate price by doing so. As Maggie says when she shouts at Rita through the door, “All soldiers are some mother’s son.”
Martin grows into the character of Rita as the play progresses. Whilst obviously inconsolable, Martin has a tendency to let her emotion overcome her delivery and as such some lines lose their clarity. The lines are key to this production – they give colour to the women’s lives and their losses. But Martin’s strength is in how she physically conveys her emotional breakdown and in her interaction with the photos strewn across the floor, acting as the only memories she has left of her son.
Hogarth is constantly trying to put the positive spin on things, as a best friend would. However she needs to react a bit more to Martin’s outbursts and accusations; sometimes she is too understanding and too keen to make light. When talking about her own son’s PTSD, the delivery can be a bit rushed; pausing, perhaps because of her voice cracking, can give the audience time to let the tragedy wash over them and hence empathise with her plight. Nevertheless Hogarth gives a strong performance as a caring friend. Most of all these two women are relatable, which accentuates everything they feel on stage. The final scene in particular makes for powerful viewing – Duffy takes a risk in the script and it pays off.
“People don’t realise the casualties don’t end on the battlefield.” A powerful message from Duffy’s first work. A bit of fine tuning in the delivery could elevate this to an equally powerful play. But I look forward to seeing what else Duffy can deliver with that simple, down to earth honesty that this production is full of.
Broken Biscuits played at theSpace on the Mile (venue 39) until August 29 as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2015. For more information, see the Fringe website.