Hir at the Bush Theatre
Hir at the Bush Theatre
Let me start by explaining the title…..Hir is a gender neutral pronoun, used in place of him or her. With a title such as this the show is clearly going to deal with gender issues. To say that Hir does this is an understatement. Hir not only deals with gender issues from a transgender point of view but also looks at domestic patriarchy, emasculation and what it means to be masculine and feminine.
Hir, by Taylor Mac, tells of Isaac, returning home from serving in a war to find out that the home he left is as broken as the war zone he is escaping from. His father, Arthur has had a stroke and his mother, Paige has used this opportunity to pay him back for all the times he mistreated her and he family. Paige has refused to tidy, do the dishes or generally put anything away in rebellion of the fact that she was expected to do the chores. At the same time, Isaac finds out that his sister Maxine, is now his brother Max and is served a whole lesson on gender neutrality along with it. Isaac’s home life falls down around him, metaphorically and physically and at a time when he needs stability, the results proving to be disastrous.
The show has a lot to take it and its relentless barrage of commentary on gender becomes overwhelming at times. Due to this its a piece that I found myself thinking of a lot, still trying to digest the information. The onslaught of information and layers within the show makes it fascinating and one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much. It’s uncomfortable watching for this same reason but this makes empathising with Isaac all the more easier, both experiencing this for the first time. There is an uncomfortable undercurrent that without this patriarchy chaos has descended potentially an unwanted conclusion that many could draw from Hir.
The actors in Hir were all brilliantly engaging. Arthur Darvill played Isaac and captured perfectly the shell shocked son coming home from war. One moment confused and clearly suffering with PTSD, the next attempting to take up the patriarchal role in the home to try to restore some semblance of normality. Ashley McGuire as Paige is as relentless as the script. She is a whirlwind one stage and most of the time you resent her for her treatment of everyone else but there are the odd tender moments where the bravado drops. McGuire allows the audience to really feel for her in these moments and drives the guilt home of the fact that they were ever rooting for anyone else on stage.
Andy Williams is Arnold, a part which rarely speaks in much more than one syllable words and more often than not simply grunts. William’s physicality however does all the speaking for him. The attention to detail on this front is a masterclass to watch. His imposing build contrasted with his infantile mannerisms makes his situation all the more uncomfortable and the emasculation all the more stark. Finally Griffyn Gilligan plays Max. With the passion he spoke of about gender neutral terminology it feels disrespectful even writing this review with gender biased pronouns. This shows how strongly Gilligan’s passion came across throughout the show.
The set in itself is almost a work of art. The whole of Hir is situated in the family’s living room. The house itself is a starter home that Arthur built many years earlier. When you enter the theatre you are faced with what looks like squalor, piles of clothes strewn around the edges of the stage, dishes piled in the sink and chairs stacked against the front door. As the show goes on and relationships break down the fragility of the house itself is cleverly exposed through this intelligent set design.
Hir is a clever, thought provoking and often mind boggling piece of theatre and one that I urge those that enjoy challenging conventional thinking or rebelling against the status quo to see.