The cast of five were absolutely brimming with energy and humour.Tom Shortland with permission for Varsity

I walked into Garry Bonds’ Balanced Breakfasts with absolutely no idea what to expect other than the fact that it was in some way related to baseball, a sport of which I could not tell you a single rule, fact, or player. My enthusiasm for the performance was not increased by the audience being asked to stand and sing the American anthem, a song which I (once again) have no knowledge of beyond the first five words. Yet I shouldn’t have doubted this cast’s ability to turn the mundane into hilarity. In under a minute I was happily “la-la-la”-ing my way through the song, joined enthusiastically by a cast who, I was informed afterwards, had been discouraged from actually learning the lyrics.

This absurd opening scene was a good introduction to the tone of the show, although it was (thankfully?) the only notable interactive element. The cast of five were absolutely brimming with energy and humour, turning every possible moment into a perfectly timed gag. A particular stand out was Coby O’Brien as both ensemble, narrator and, at points, musical accompaniment. Often simply a silent presence in a relatively nondescript role such as TV, Coby’s facial expressions and physical humour consistently left the audience in stitches.

“I found myself utterly gripped by his desperation”

Although the show was extremely comedic, what stood out to me the most was the genuine heart and depth of the script. Written by Rishi Sharma, the narrative introduced Ned Burger (Owen Igiehon), a middle-aged man living in constant regret that he never managed to become a pro-baseball player, and equally constant anger at his old teammate Garry Bonds, who did. When baseball legend Lou Gehrig (Gigi Jacques) visits Ned as a ghost and gives him the chance to return to his past for one hour, Ned is determined to change the trajectory of his career. He is unprepared, however, for the cost. With Joe Morgan as Ned’s younger self and Harriet Regan as his girlfriend/wife Skyler, the play explores Ned’s own shortcomings and powerfully challenges his priorities and beliefs.

The decision Ned faces – of whether he should change his life (and if so, how) – is perhaps one that many people will have considered themselves. The show’s wider message is clear, yet it comes across as much stronger than simply an archetypal warning. When the character of Ned himself has such genuine heart and passion, it’s impossible not to invest in his choices. Indeed, Owen Igiehon’s complete control of both his own characterisation and the room as a whole was truly amazing to watch. I found myself utterly gripped by his desperation, especially in his early dialogues with Skyler, as Harriet Regan skilfully balanced Skyler’s love for her husband with her frustration at his lacklustre attitude.

“Moments of genuine emotion too often dissolved into hilarity”

It was a shame, therefore, that the comedic moments consistently lacked restraint throughout the production. Moments of genuine emotion too often dissolved into hilarity which, while pleasingly entertaining, diminished the production’s potential. Subtler comedic beats (such as Coby O’Brien’s facial reactions) were often lost in unrestrained chaos. While every single actor individually had great comedic instincts, they lacked cohesion, and occasionally felt as though they were competing for audience laughter. Equally, Ned’s alternate self being a Trump-loving alcoholic felt like a reductive choice; the humour of the scene unfortunately came at the cost of the audience’s sympathy for Ned.


Mountain View

Garry Bonds’ Balanced Breakfasts throws some curveballs

That being said, I walked out of this production pleasantly surprised at how much I had enjoyed the show - while having maintained completely devoid of any knowledge of baseball. With a little more refining, this has the potential to be an extremely powerful piece of theatre

Garry Bonds' Balanced Breakfasts ran from the 4th to 26th of August at Nicholson Square.