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the Complete Review
the complete review - drama

The Break of Day

Timberlake Wertenbaker

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Break of Day

Title: The Break of Day
Author: Timberlake Wertenbaker
Genre: Drama
Written: 1995
Length: 98 pages
Availability: The Break of Day - US
in Plays 2 - US
The Break of Day - UK
in Plays 2 - UK
The Break of Day - Canada
in Plays 2 - Canada
  • The Break of Day was first performed at the Haymarket Theatre, Leicester, 26 October 1995, in a production directed by Max Stafford-Clark

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Our Assessment:

C+ : too jumbled, simplistic, and unevenly paced

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Spectator . 9/12/1995 Sheridan Morley
TLS . 22/12/1995 Shena Mackay

  From the Reviews:
  • "But as the characters exchange information about themselves for our benefit, they exude enough guilt and anxiety about the state of the nation to fuel a David Hare trilogy. (...) The Break of Day is short on explanation, however. Despite an excellent cast, who make the most of some witty and acute lines, Wertenbaker's Chekhovian problem comedy is more scapegoat than drama, an awkwardly political animal laden with a burden of timely sins and millennial Angst that it proves too frail to carry." - Shena Mackay, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Break of Day is an oddly structured three-act play. The first act introduces most of the large cast of characters, a gathering at which people reveal the issues that concern them at this time in their lives and the choices they want to or have to make -- regarding careers, family, philosophical outlooks. The second act focusses on two couples, each trying to get a child -- one by medical means, another through adoption. The final, very brief third act, six months later, is a sort of summing up of what has become of most of the characters.
       Wertenbaker tries to tackle a great deal here. Foremost is the question of motherhood. In her introduction to Plays 2, Wertenbaker claims:

In The Break of Day, gender identity is questioned and suffered. Is female identity ultimately bound up with having children ? Three women face different options in an uncomfortable setting.
       Nina is a singer-songwriter who feels creatively dried-up; her American husband, Hugh, is pushing her to try to record another album. One-time feminist Tess is set to become editor of a glossy magazine of the sort she would have despised years earlier. Nick -- Hugh's son, and Nina's stepson -- has gotten Marisa pregnant, a young woman who grew up in care and has quite a few issues to deal with herself.
       Others also have issues to deal with: doctor Jamie is fed up with the British medical system, while classics professor April is frustrated by recent university reforms. And Tess' actor-husband Robert longs to work in theatre again, instead of television (where he's been offered a lucrative part).
       Both Tess and Nina are now desperate to have children -- Tess feeling old age and last opportunities creeping up (the first act centred around her fortieth birthday celebrations), while Nina is infertile due to a back-alley abortion years earlier. Each is willing to forsake a great deal for it -- including, possibly, their careers and their husbands. The second act follows their struggles to get a child. Unable to conceive naturally, Tess explores all the medical possibilities, from in vitro fertilization to finding a surrogate mother -- an expensive process that tears her marriage apart. Nina and Hugh travel to Eastern Europe to adopt a child there, but they constantly have to deal with a corrupt and shifting bureaucracy in this country undergoing a transition from Soviet satellite to semi-free democracy. In each case, hope is dangled before the women, and then pulled away, again and again.
       There is certainly the potential for interesting drama in this, as the women who once embraced feminism struggle with their overwhelming need to find validation in motherhood. But Wertenbaker crowds the drama far too much: the side-stories, from Eastern European transitions and corruption to the peripheral stories about everything from university and NHS reform to Sappho's poetry, add little beyond confusing the issues. The shift from the very busy first act to the second -- which focusses almost solely on the two couples and their attempts to get a child -- is also too abrupt, and the entire second act also too long and boring, as the see-saw struggle -- will she or won't she get pregnant ? will they or won't they be able to rescue the poor little baby girl from Eastern Europe ? -- teeters far too wildly back and forth.
       Wertenbaker has some good ideas (perhaps too many), and some of the dialogue is clever, but she hasn't fashioned a cohesive play out of it. The second act stands too far apart from the rest, and she makes much too much of it: if this struggle was what she wanted to focus on she should have written a separate play around it (as, indeed, the second act can almost stand alone as a separate play).
       The best scene, sadly, has nothing to do with most of what Wertenbaker wants to focus on: it's when Nina and Hugh arrive in Eastern Europe and are mistaken for other desperately awaited foreigners:
Girl Student: You are not Dahvid Edgahr and Kyril Churchill, not delegation of United Kingdom theatre ?
       Alas, they're not -- and audiences will likely also sigh: alas, Wertenbaker is not.
       There's simply too much to The Break of Day, and not enough that truly convinces. An overgrown, overblown piece of theatre.

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The Break of Day: Timberlake Wertenbaker: Other plays by Timberlake Wertenbaker under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Drama books

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About the Author:

       Playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker was born in the US in 1951.

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© 2003-2010 the complete review

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