BWW Review: Jarrott Productions THE HERD
Jarrott Productions latest, Rory Kinnear's THE HERD, is the perfect example of why we dread going home for the holidays. In this case though, Andy's the reason for the occasion. It's Andy's twenty first (or 19th, depending on who you ask) birthday. Andy, it seems, is not just the reason for the family get together, but the unseen character that drives this play from start to finish. We're all either part of, or familiar with, Andy's family. Andy happens to be severely physically challenged with a congenital disease, but this unique circumstance is hardly a barrier to realizing that this British family is possibly very much like any suburban family anywhere. There's a deep love in this family, despite its dysfunctional workings. It's a family who has taken a set of circumstances, reacted to them in a certain way, and failed to realize they have power to choose differently, if they could realize it at all. In this way, THE HERD is a tragedy of sorts. We're left to wonder if this family will come to forgive one another in the face of their different choices, and given this play's ending, that they'll learn to experience their own peace of mind. Don't get me wrong, the play is not morose, it's funny as well. And it does both without being overdone, which is pleasant. Moreover, no matter who it seems is directing a Jarrott production, this company can be counted on to deliver a production that feels natural. In the case of THE HERD, this was done so well I almost didn't notice the somewhat awkward transitions Kinnear contrives in the script. It's refreshing really, to see actors who aren't "acting" when, with a script like this, there's an open invitation to chew the scenery.
So it's Andy's 21st birthday and his caregivers are transporting him to his mother Carol's (Jan Phillips) house to celebrate. Right away we learn his intellectual and physical disabilities are so severe that he can't speak or care for himself. Meanwhile, Andy's relatives have gathered at Carol's as well. First to arrive is Andy's sister Claire (Amber Quick) followed by Andy's grandparents Patricia (Janelle Buchanan) and Brian (David Jarrott). Claire has courageously invited her "friend," Mark (Steve Williams) who shows up as well, but not before Carol's uninvited ex-husband, Andy's estranged dad Ian (Michael Miller) arrives. He's an entirely unwanted guest, and he tilts an already precarious situation into dysfunction junction.
Kinnear uses THE HERD to examine the emotional consequences of a near unbearable situation and the toll it takes on a family. However, there is no doubt this family loves one another. Phillips' Carol invokes the image of a bird busily and smartly carrying on taking care of her babies. She is, if not overbearing, certainly obsessed with ensuring Andy is cared for, at times at the expense of the rest of her family, most of whom hold no grudges for her single sighted commitment to Andy. Ian is an exception to this, having left Carol and his family long ago in an attempt to find some happiness. Miller gives Ian a bumbling kind of wimpiness that makes him decidedly annoying. Amber Quick shows us a grounded and guarded Claire, believable in both her resentment of her father for abandoning her and her apprehension to bring a "friend" home who she's been in a relationship with for a year. Her grandmother is certainly a slight embarrassment to Claire, but Janelle Buchanan gives Patricia's nosy nature and acerbic wit an impressively metered control. Playwright Kinnear gives Patricia some zingers but Buchanan never gives over to an unmeasured anger. Jarrott's Brian is good natured and gentle despite his philosophy that life is nothing more than dumb luck, and played with generosity and compassion, Williams' Mark manages to witness the whole evening with what seems like curiosity and innocence.
Lights and sound on this show are uncomplicated. However, of particular note in the case of a production such as this, set in a suburban home in London: The set is really quite beautiful. Desiderio Roybal has recreated a contemporary home here. We have here a completely finished out and well appointed living room set. Almost like the model apartment they show when you're renting, you know the one. When so many theatre companies in town put up what appear like half finished home projects and mask the exits with black felt it's a pleasant surprise to be treated to such a carefully crafted set.
It's a dysfunctional family, but despite all that, Kinnear gives us a story that is both dark humored and loving. Director Robert Tolaro has let the characters speak for themselves here in a way that, to the open hearted observer, provides a rare reason to appreciate the point of view and pain of each of these characters. Furthermore, while it would have been so easy to do, I did not once catch any of these skilled actors "acting." There are some flaws to Kinnear's script, some exits and entrances that could seem contrived in order to get certain characters alone, but the actors in this production are believable enough to make that almost unnoticeable. Tolaro has brought together a fine and natural cast for an intimate look at a family we can all understand.
By Rory Kinnear
Trinity Street Theatre
Sunday at 2:30 pm
Running time 1 hour 40 minutes with no intermission