Stuart King

Review: HIR at Park Theatre

Felicity Huffman‘s UK theatre debut as the freakishly controlling Paige in Taylor Mac's touchingly chaotic family drama HIR (pronounced here), serves as consummate lesson in how to effectively secrete a big persona into a small space without eclipsing everyone around you.

The cast of HIR at Park TheatreThe cast of HIR at Park Theatre.

Touching on a multitude of challenging and thought-provoking themes, the barnstorming comedy asks us to consider the ramifications of decisions taken by individual members of a family in turmoil, and whether there are some options so potentially destructive to the whole, they should never be considered.

The family's eldest child Isaac (Steffan Cennydd) has returned from Afghanistan with a dishonourable discharge due to drug mis-use. He discovers the family home (a ramshackle effort built on a landfill site) in disarray, with clothing strewn everywhere and his mother Paige (Huffman) explaining that things have changed since he went away and that they no-longer do order. Furthermore, one wall supports a massive collage depicting genderqueer slogans and imagery seemingly to support and normalise the transitioning of youngest child Max (Thalia Dudek) who has gone from she to ze andgiggles excitedly at anyone's mention of her gradually forming facial hair. Dressed grotesquely in pink nightgown, wig, clown make-up and forced to wear a diaper, the family's bullying former patriarch Arnold (Simon Startin) is much diminished since suffering a stroke and is given menial and demeaning tasks, oestrogen smoothies to reduce his temper tantrums and is sprayed in the face whenever he raises his voice or touches himself. By the latter stages of the play, it has become all too apparent that his treatment is no more or less cruel and ugly than the bullying which he inflicted on his wife and young children in years gone by.

Determined to return the home to some semblance of its former order, Isaac forgoes a Saturday cultural trip and stays home, deploying a military approach to cleaning and tidy-up. This sets-up the strongest scene in which parents and children clash, effectively vying for superiority by using logic, argument, manipulation, guilt and cajoling to stay on top.

At times, it would be easy to believe that trans rights (and the declaring of one's pronouns) is the single most important subject occupying the thoughts and emotions of half the planet. HIR serves as a massively refreshing and encouraging antidote to the noise and dogma by dipping its toe in the subject and delivering a thought-provoking, enlightening and entertaining piece of drama which feeds into that wider debate. The end result isn't perfect, but it's certainly compelling, funny, brutal and at times deeply distressing. Go, if you are a fan of cleverly written and well delivered dialogue and look out for a marvellously understated set design surprise towards the end of the first half.