Review of ‘Here’: “It needs a voice to be heard”

London’s Southwark Playhouse hosts the world premiere of this new play by the Papatango Company, whose previous achievements include the Olivier and the Critics’ Circle Award. Guillermo Názara reviews their latest work upon his attendance to the opening night, to let us know his thoughts on this reflection on the complicated bonds tying people who may not be meant to be together.

They say that family is everything. They’re actually right. Because nobody will help you as much as those you choose to be part of that close circle. And nobody will hurt you as bad as those who were forcefully in it at some point. Toxic relationships, especially when it comes to those connected by blood, are not something odd to almost anyone. Abuse has made its way into our lives in so many forms it’s actually strange not to recall some harmful moment someone we thought (let’s stress that word) should love us eventually did. Definiteley, not something new to talk about.

This week, one of London’s most mainstream alternative theatres has hosted the world premiere of Here, a new play by Clive Judd and directed by George Turvey exploring the ties (and more in particular, the many loose ends) of a stranged family – even though three of them live together. Unspoken feelings of fear, hatred and, subsequently, love merge in this stage (and real life) powder keg, whose wick is already on its last half from its very start.

Family reunions transforming into battles of grudges and bitchiness (if they don’t present themselves as such in its original form) are nothing to be (pardon the pun) unfamiliarised with (yes, I know, I’m sorry…). From untimely classics like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (having to do with failed withered couples) to more recent attempts such as Mad House (review on this link), fiction is packed with explorations dealing with the same subject and probably the same phylosophy: “why are we supposed to cope with people we don’t like just because society tells us that’s the idea of a happy life? It makes no sense”.

Given the recurrence of this theme (for some reason, a playwrights’ fave), the chances for upcoming material to exude any originality are scarce at the least – the approach often being the only way for the piece to have any sort of uniqueness. Sadly, that’s probably Here‘s major flaw, as it fails at bringing anything new to the party. Though featuring dialogues endowed with depth and remarkable naturality (it really feels as if you were eavesdropping at a private conversation), the characters’ motivations (or more accurately in this one, frustrations) seem more like a list of overused topics you’ve already heard before – relatable in shape, but struggling to make true contact with the viewer.

In addition, the structure of the script, regarding both pace and premise, looks uncertain, as some of the twists the play takes give the impression that the story they’re trying to tell is yet to be constructed – apart from some moments being too slow. The design, on the other hand, does not contribute to improve the experience, since the use of a permanent gauze surrounding the entire set (supposedly delimiting the space of the house where the action takes place) only brings the sensation that you are watching a film on the screen – erasing the proximity and frankness that should always be inherent to the theatre. That conclusion is reinforced by the treatment a second scrim is given further in the performance, revealing a garden where one of the characters smokes as the attention is drawn to his wife and step-daughter.

There’s some salvation to the production, nonetheless, as the brilliant portrayals of the cast members manage to make the performance a more enjoyable journey. Though all of them quite robust, Sam Baker-Jones’s rendition is no doubt the biggest highlight of the entire troupe, as the subtlety and apparent cautiousness of his interpretation are however able to bring the house down – only proving how much of a natural talent (or perhaps, a young but thorough connaiseur of the acting craft) he is. On the female side, Lucy Benjamin, in the role of the insulting and unstable Aunt Monica, offers a much compelling, determined and (almost constantly) believable portrayal of an unlikeable persona who’s not necessarily bad.

There’s ideas and ideas – and more ways to give birth to them. Here may have departed from an acceptable (indeed interesting) one, but even the most succesful and celebrated pieces in the theatre (and any other media) would have fallen down the pit if their not-too-marvellous first draft wouldn’t have been scrapped and polished as many times as needed (it’s never one or two). Here is perhaps at a better state than those initial attempts, but further efforts are still vital if they wish this play to live a longer life (again, excuse the pun). With the proper makeover, it can find its own soul and aim for some timelessness. Without any, oblivion will be its finale.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

All pictures credited to The Other Richard.

Here plays at London’s Southwark Playhouse until 3 December. Tickets are available on the following link.

By Guillermo Názara

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