12 February 2016

Herons at the Lyric Hammersmith was astonishing

I had not been to the Lyric Hammersmith for quite a while, I was last there for Metamorphosis in February 2013, and it had dropped off my radar slightly. It got back on with Herons as that was written by Simon Stephens who, among other things, also wrote ChristmasPortThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and an adaptation of Three Sisters.

The Lyric Hammersmith has the advantage for me of being in Hammersmith, the clue is in the name, as various tube lines lead there from Richmond, where I live, and Kings Cross, where I work. On this occasion I was at work and took a stroll to Great Portland Street where I took the Hammersmith and City line.

I knew from my previous visit that the Lyric Hammersmith did food so I made my plans to eat there before the show. That plan worked extraordinarily well despite the vegetarian options being limited and unimaginative sounding as the vege burger that I went for was almost certainly the best vege burger that I had ever had. The burger itself was delicious and the meal was elevated to its leadership position by the salad that went with it, avocado always works for me, and the use of pitta bread rather than the bland burger standard roll. I'll have that again next time. They had a nice expensive craft beer too.

I had gone for a seat in the front row of the Circle, A20, which was a modest £30. Sitting there waiting for the play to start the most obvious feature on the stage was the video of monkeys playing on the large screen at the back. That should have alerted me that something unusual was going to happen but I failed to pick up the clue.

Normally I would say something about the plot and the characters at this point but there was just so much in Herons that focusing on them would be to miss several big points.

For starters, the stage was flooded with water to the depth of around 10cm and stayed that way all through the play. The actors got quite wet, as did some of the people in the front row.

And that video of monkeys kept playing.

Things happened on stage that seemed to have no bearing on the story. For example, at one point the mother (who was not really present in that scene) was sitting on the small swinging horse on the front-right of the stage and she carefully took her wellington boots off and laid them sideways on the stage where they got filled with water. A while later she put them on again.

At other points some of the children went around the roundabout slowly in unusual positions, a another child sat in the water with shock etched on his face and children blew soap bubbles from the top of the lock. All of this happened away from the main action in the centre of the stage but complimented it by adding more textures, rather than diverting from it.

The story started with a boy blowing up an inflatable doll to celebrate, his word, the death of a girl who had been murdered a year ago by, it turned out, his older brother. The play remained violent throughout and had the language to match. There was some love too, though that got swamped by the violence and the threat of violence.

In the eye of this weird and energetic hurricane was Billy (Max Gill) who not just accepted that he would be bullied and abused but almost encouraged it by asserting his intellectual superiority over his bully. He also had to cope with severely dysfunctional and separated parents.

The main characters were school children and were played by young people. It would be tempting to make allowances for their ages but that was unnecessary as all played their parts well.

The combination of everything going on was something like the famous Phil Spector Wall of Sound where to pick out the sound of just one instrument was to miss the point. The glorious richness came from all the parts moving together and was absorbed at a primitive level rather than being consciously consumed.

Herons was theatre craft at its very best.

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