Bush Theatre, London – until 22 July 2017
“We don’t do cupboards anymore. We don’t do order.”
Taylor Mac’s Hir comes loaded with worlds of contemporary resonances, particularly in its exploration of the disaffection of the American working class and its probing into multiple layers of gender politics. And in this blackest of black comedies, getting its UK premiere at the Bush, it is – initially at least – vigorously, startlingly effective as an reinvention of the archetypal dysfunctional family drama.
We open with Isaac’s return to his small-town California home having been dishonourably discharged from the Marines. Working in the mortuary during a tour of Afghanistan has shattered him but he soon finds the home comforts he’s been dreaming of remain as far away as ever. His father has had a stroke, his mother is enacting vicious revenge on him for their abusive relationship by shattering the patriarchal order in the household, and he also discovers that his sibling is transitioning. Not quite the welcome home he was expecting.
Arthur Darvill imbues the returning Isaac with an incredulous fervour that sees him determined to restore ‘order’ as he sees it and thus he locks horns with Ashley McGuire’s matriarch Paige, an impressively newly self-aware woman but one who wields her power with a cruelly vicious glee that is often hard to watch, especially where Andy Williams’ disabled Arnold is concerned. And Griffyn Gilligan offers up intriguing work to complete this transformed family, part queer theorist, part stroppy teen.
But Nadia Fall’s production can’t disguise a certain hollowness at the heart of Hir. The virulence of its arguments will catch your breath but the action feels trapped inside the confines of Ben Stones’ domestic set. Having set up this toxically vivid world, Mac doesn’t progress it dramatically and so two hours of banging your head brutally against a wall leaves us with a bloody forehead and a sense of desolation that is hard to stomach.