Monday, April 22

Hir – Park Theatre

Vomiting all over the kitchen-sink dramedy, Taylor Mac’s black comedy shakes a cynical showmanship and irreverent discursiveness into an acidic concoction that’s a good deal easier to swallow than it is to digest. Hir (pronounced ‘here’) is a tough watch. Content warnings for “strong profanity throughout, along with discussions of sex, sexuality, and descriptions and visual evidence of domestic violence, rape and drug abuse” can be found by hunting through the production’s online listing and should be heeded. As bashful as its humour is bleak, the play’s darkest scenes are also its most illuminating. Depicting a vision of the American family life metaphorically and literally set in Malvina Reynolds’ “little boxes” it is a claustrophobic environment with a set not quite big enough for its breeches and a quartet of performances broad as barn doors.

Directed by Steven Kunis in the style of what the playwright dubs “absurd realism” this cast operates on a bizarre scale, neither fully commanding nor ever giving up the stage to the perennially expectant audience always waiting for the other shoe to drop, the other bomb to go off, or the wall to fall. Every monologue is well prepared but the four-handed performance’s blocking is neither fully theatrical nor sufficiently immersive. With top billing, Felicity Huffman depicts a mother’s rage admirably and sometimes quite movingly. There’s a grotesqueness inherent to the type of storytelling work being done here that she doesn’t approach with as much gusto as in her more sympathetic moments. Tearful sincerity is compelling in its own right but she lacks the terrific mania required in this role to make any of the other characters at all bearable. Steffan Cennydd is particularly disadvantaged by this imbalance and is similarly disappointingly restrained in his performance. A recent graduate of the Guildhall School, his work is effortful and intentional but far less convincingly immediate or American than the script demands it be. Simon Startin’s addled patriarch, Arnold, is also methodically played to the point of sterilization. As a result, the awful violence undergirding the plot, and well-choreographed by Claire Llewellyn of RC-Annie Ltd, ends up more cringe than flinch inducing.

Also, technically impressive but theatrically impractical, Ceci Calf’s set is a distractingly clever construction. Artistically interesting but sorely lacking as a mobile play space, it takes on a bulk of storytelling and commentating that belies the stakes of the scenes themselves. Composer and Sound Designer, Roly Botha does well in building a soundscape representative of Hir’s ‘here’ in both its realism and its absurdity and Calf’s costumes do straddle this line admirably. The real binding ingredient in this poisoned pie however is Thalía Dudek’s winsome performance as Max, the genderqueer teen from hir it derives its title. Fresh, urgent, and delightfully brash, their work is fascinating, convincing, and rewarding to witness.

Hir is playing at the Park Theatre until 16th March. https://parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/hir

Reviewer: Kira Daniels

Reviewed: 21st February 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.
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