REVIEW: HIR (Bush Theatre) ★★★

The satirical family drama ’HIR’ opens for its first European run at Bush Theatre. US Marine Isaac returns home after three years. There, father Arnold has suffered a debilitating stroke. Sibling Maxine is transitioning into brother Max. And at the centre of it all, mother Paige, who has turned the tables and spits on everything Arnold and the patriarchy stand for. Having been abused and cheated on all these years, she now refuses to engage with anything typically maternal. There are many things this family ‘doesn’t do anymore’, including financial worries, doing the laundry or dishes, sending the youngest to school, using cupboards or caring for invalid family members. Isaac walks into (extremely filthy) domestic anarchy, in which the (old) order is destroyed. Isaac tries to keep up but he cannot quite deal with giving everything up from his past.

‘HIR’ at the Bush Theatre is superbly acted: Ashley McGuire manages to be extremely sunny, yet underlyingly disturbed. Griffyn Gilligan is a snarky Max that just wants to belong. Arthur Darvill is adequately overwhelmed and stressed to his core, while lending the play its only ‘calm’ presence. Andy Williams manages to portray a great sorry existence with just a few words and groans. Especially well done is the set design: Ben Stones divides the auditorium into two sides looking onto the home which is stuffed to the brim with frilly clothes, banners, and carelessly dumped trash.

However, ‘HIR’ by Taylor Mac is never going to be a play that is fun to watch. It is charring to see what years of abuse have made of Paige, and it is almost even more painful to see how she treats invalid Arnold now. Max, a typically vulnerable and easily impressed teenager, tries to find her own way of escaping the oppressive home. Isaac’s backstory includes PTSD and drug abuse. The house may be decorated in rainbow colours, but there is no ray of sun to be found within this deeply dysfunctional family. The tone of the play is likewise baffling as it is quite mocking of the movements it seemingly supports: feminism and transgender acceptance. Unfortunately, ‘HIR’ throws up a lot of issues it does not conclude nor take a clear stance on – at the same time, besides a few moments, it is unfortunately neither very funny nor emotional.

Reviewed by Lisa Theresa Downey-Dent
Photo: Ellie Kurttz

Hir plays at Bush Theatre until 22 July 2017. Tickets