Greenhouse Theatre, London – until 15 August 2021
Guest reviewer: Diana Miranda
At the heart of Canary Wharf’s Jubilee Park, The Greenhouse lets go of theatre productions’ bells and whistles to become a zero-waste venue that works only with recycled materials. The little wooden cottage and its in-the-round staging give the audience a feeling of gathering around a fire for a storytelling session, and the tales it offers are set in natural environments that frame, or even shape, the characters’ fortunes.
In Hjem, written and directed by Harry Sever, Orla (Lysa-Marie Asiedu-Yeboa) begins a correspondence relationship with Erik (Phillip Jones), her grandmother’s old friend whose name she keeps repeating during episodes of dementia. This unveils the grandmother’s relationship with the Norwegian fisherman, who was taken in by her family in Northumberland after a storm struck his vessel in the North Sea in the 1950s. As Orla and Erik dig into memories, a story of friendship and love is conjured by the serenity of a quiet life outdoors, close to the ocean.
Hjem adheres to The Greenhouse’s ethos with an unfussy design by Angelina Dove, using ropes and ripped blue fabric to evoke a coastal town’s atmosphere. The story goes back and forth in time, and both actors perform the multiple characters involved in the tale. The characters feel lightly sketched, and I find myself wanting to go further and deeper into their evolution. There doesn’t seem to be enough time to navigate Erik’s relationship with his dear one back in the fifties, nor with the curious granddaughter in the present.
There are moments in which Erik’s careful, paused movements clue us into the days of an older man. But the overall role switching relies mainly on a few costume clues and, although both actors play their parts confidently, it is sometimes hard to tell which character we’re encountering.
As a modern folk tale with a soundtrack of sea shanties (composed by Sever and inspired by English and Norwegian traditions), the songs that Orla and Erik perform add colour to the characters’ journey. However, these shanties are scattered as brackets throughout the show and don’t resonate as strongly within the narrative. The play could gain poignancy in its exploration of tales and songs as means to connect us with the natural world by making the interpretation of songs a bit more emotionally investing and by embedding them into the performance – such as the brief moment when the mother hums to herself before meeting Erik.
The Greenhouse Theatre’s project recalls the fundamental essence of pure storytelling in theatre. This play, however, doesn’t entirely transcend its modest narration, and the interpretations need more fervour. Still, Hjem is moving and enticing. It exposes the imprint of young love in those memories that arise in the dusk of life, with the ocean as a symbol of heart-warming longing. Hjem is suffused with tenderness and has the potential to magnify the characters and their songs to embark on a more extensive, profound journey.
Hjem runs through 15 August.
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