Hir at the Bush TheatreCultureTheatre
A jittery Isaac (Arthur Darvill) returns from war to find his family home in disarray. Patriarchal brute Arnold (Andy Williams) has been dethroned and defanged following a stroke, leaving Paige (Ashley McGuire) in charge of a new regime of “cultural Saturdays” and purposeful chaos. Meanwhile, freed from the tyranny of the father, Max (Griffyn Gilligan) has begun to transition, preferring the gender-neutral terms ze and hir. Isaac is unable to cope with the change, and his reappearance upsets this new order, injecting an increasingly toxic, and familiar, masculinity into the household.
The basic outline of Hir suggests a clear moral division that playwright Taylor Mac refuses to adhere to. Paige, understandably seeking retribution after years of abuse, takes on the unpleasant bullying attitude of Arnold, a formerly monstrous but now infantilised figure who elicits pity thanks to the finely calibrated shuffle and moan of Williams. Though Darvill’s frantic Isaac begins to resemble the father he so feared as a child, he is also a PTSD-stricken veteran-cum-addict with no sense of his place in the world. And Max – who Gilligan makes the heart of the play, the very site of what is at stake – can’t help but want to test out the kind of masculinity ze thinks Isaac represents, even if it is the opposite of what ze believes in.
Nadia Fall’s production really belongs to Ashley McGuire. As Paige she employs the breezy, optimistic tone of a well-intentioned mother desperately trying to keep up with her child. Yet this matriarch has a spine of steel, adamant she will not return to a time when she was nothing but a piece of property. She ends up co-opting the language of Max’s self-discovery, lacking the words and education to express her own journey that, while similar, carries the burden of a much greater history.
That idea of history ripples throughout the entire play. Not just in the tongue-in-cheek trans-re-evaluations of Noah’s Ark and the Mona Lisa, but in the warping of the future by the failure to fully engage with and confront the past. Progress doesn’t happen in a utopian vacuum; drastic change on its own won’t cause the desire for reparations to disappear. The better world Paige is trying to create for her children clashes with her own, justifiable, need for revenge.
There are no judgements, no easy answers. Instead, by weaving the classic tenets of American theatre – class, addiction, familial strife – with themes, like transgender identity and feminism, far less prevalent in the canon, Mac has produced a blisteringly complex 21st-century version of the kitchen sink drama, built on a foundation of shifting sympathies and hyper-relevant debate.
Photo: Ellie Kurttz
Hir is at the Bush Theatre from 15th June until 22nd July 2017. For further information or to book visit here.