With the exception of a handful of classics, queer stories are mostly relegated to fringe theatre. While this has its benefits – independent stages are increasingly producing bolder and more exciting work than that shown on the mainstage (free from the obligations of nepotism and subscribers’ purse strings) this fact remains a painful reminder that LGBTQ+ stories are still considered a gamble and profit continues to conquer progress.
So what made an incredible performance of Hir at Bush Theatre even more gratifying was seeing a queer story written by a non-binary playwright told with a decent budget.
Taylor Mac’s Hir is an absurdist slow-burner presented with brutal realism. We’re thrown into a shabby prairie house in Central Valley, inhabited by your standard, white, nuclear American family. Except Dad has a full face of make up and can’t pronounce his own name; Mum is merrily blending up Dad’s pharmaceutical shake; Little Brother was born Little Sister, and Big Brother has just returned home, dishonorably dismissed from the Army and he can’t seem to stop vomiting. One half of the family is trying to recreate the past while the other half is ploughing mercilessly towards the future. This is a modern kitchen sink drama on amphetamines.
The script is fiercely intelligent and relevant and Mac’s distinctive wry humour tricks us into laughing before we realise we really shouldn’t be. Enemies are sparred against eachother – Order vs Chaos, Tradition vs Liberalism, Abuser vs Victim until all lines are blurred and you’re left questioning everything about this bizarre situation you think you’ve finally figured out. We are afforded an exhilarating glimpse into a reality where tradition has been obliterated and gender hierarchy is turned on its head; but we’re also forced to see the horror of how humans will act when structure is removed completely – the oppressed become the oppressors and if nothing is sacred, how far will they go to win status?
The piece is fueled by 4 finely crafted performances.
Ashley McGuire is a powerhouse as mum Paige, self-appointed new leader of the pack who’s rewriting all the rules. McGuire treads a perfect balance between the manic wit of a power drunk woman hungry for justice, and the vulnerability of a mother scrabbling to keep her children close.
Griffyn Gilligan charms as the endearingly obnoxious little brother Max – a sexually-charged anarchist hopeful who thinks he’s got it all figured out. Gilligan gives a complex performance as a boy trying to figure out what kind of man he wants to be.
Arthur Darvill is captivating as Isaac, his breakneck energy belying the unravelling of a man traumatised by war, hell bent on restoring the order in his life.
Andy Williams gives a brilliantly detailed performance as fallen alpha male Arnold, his portrayal of a neglected stroke victim is completely heartbreaking until we glimpse the truth of the man he used to be.
Director Nadia Fall has curated a finely tuned production that is unapologetically confronting and topical.
Hir is playing at Bush Theatre until July 22nd – go book your tickets because they’re sure to sell out! Book tickets here.
© Clementine Mills 2017