BWW Reviews: THE HERD, Bush Theatre, September 18 2013
It is into a living room much like any other that the cast of Rory Kinnear's play The Herd enters, each preparing in one way or another for the 21st birthday of Andy, a young man with a disability his grandmother describes, in an attempt at one-upmanship, as "much worse than Down's". While Andy is never seen, his presence is felt throughout this uncompromising one-act, which refuses to sentimentalise the reality that faces those who find themselves in a similar position to the young man's family.
Not that it's completely serious throughout. There is much to laugh at, and Anna Calder-Marshall in particular as the aforementioned Grandma Patricia gets all the best lines, certainly making the most of them. Amanda Root as Andy's mother Carol gets a few laughs of her own, but excels when demonstrating the frustration, anguish and love the character has felt in the twenty-one years since her son was born. It is a performance which rings completely true in the smallest of moments as well as the intensely moving ones, and when she describes to her daughter Claire (Louise Brealey) how she thinks "every time someone drops round to say hello, every text I get, he's died", the daily reality of her situation is couldn't be more clear.
The male half of the cast is similarly strong: Kenneth Cranham as Carol's father Brian doesn't get a huge amount to do, but what he does do is perfectly pitched. He is the affable, put-upon grandfather for the majority of proceedings, but becomes a central figure at a pivotal point, and the result is quietly devastating. Adrian Bower's Mark and Adrian Rawlins' Ian, both outsiders for different reasons, round out what is a hugely talented cast which deserves the emphatic applause they received on this particular night.
Howard Davies' direction and Helen Goddard's design are never anything less than completely convincing, helping make The Herd an entirely engrossing, emotional affair which offers a window on a situation which is relatively unique, but one that is experienced in a very real way by characters who will immediately resonate with anyone who has ever had a family.