Herons

Mon 12th – Mon 26th August 2013

reviews

Imogen O'Sullivan

at 10:09 on 15th Aug 2013

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‘Herons’ opens with a boy, a gun, and a bench. This bench makes up the only piece of set used in Laura Donovan and Kate Stickland’s bleak and stripped-back picture of the cycle of violence that characterises the life of Billy (Jamie Manton).

The script is, in parts, astonishingly naturalistic. As scenes slip in and out of each other, you find yourself, like Billy, swept into a world of anger and violence you never asked for. When Adele (Hannah Lawrence) complains to Billy about all the immature boys and bitchy girls at their school, I feared the piece would slip into teenage cliché, but ‘Herons’ manages to take its cast one step further - this is a tale of adolescent angst, but not as we know it.

Lawrence is a convincing Adele - defiant through trembling lips - though the tension and nervous ticks that control her physicality, occasionally risk becoming overdone. The scene where she sits with Billy, cross-legged by the water, reminds us that these characters as still children, despite the horrors they undergo and inflict. George Watkins as Scott is genuinely terrifying - quiet menace pervades his every word - but his performance is noticeably more powerful in its slow, sneering cadences, rather than the explosions of expletives that begin to wear thin. Scott’s team of swaggering apes are a further example of how this script neatly sidesteps cliché – Henry Fewster’s understated performance of unexpected eloquence adds an extra dimension to the stereotype of ‘bully’.

Ryan Whittle as Charlie deserves special mention. Somehow, Whittle has managed to perfectly encapsulate the figure of a troubled father trying to do the best for his son; his droning croak belies a world-weary introspection that is breathtaking to watch. Whittle embodies his character so perfectly, every characteristic tick of voice and body is so thoughtfully nuanced, that he becomes the only figure I find myself caring about.

The climax of ‘Herons’ would have wielded more emotive power if it had been dealt with in a more sensitive way. Instead, the company opted for the shock factor of disgusting violence, and I was left feeling sick and numb. This is a shame, because, in other places, this production beautifully captures the desperate sadness of children surviving in an adult world.

Despite all its successes, I find it difficult to recommend ‘Herons’. The acting was, almost uniformly, impeccable, and the company have, no doubt, created a powerful piece of theatre. However, the graphic staging of the climactic scene didn’t leave me feeling moved and affected; it just left me feeling sick and faint. If this was the intention of the piece, then it succeeded, but it was just too much for me, especially at 12:30 in the afternoon.

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Natasha Hyman

at 10:40 on 15th Aug 2013

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As soon as I enter the theatre I am being threatened by a gun-wielding actor, whilst the sound of intense vibrations resounds around us. Tension is already mounting, as it will continue to do for a full hour. Billy’s dad witnessed a girl being killed; Billy is now paying for it through Scott, the son of one of the imprisoned men who was sentenced in conjunction with the murder. This productions boasts some impressive performances, however, ultimately I wouldn’t willingly see this it again, nor would I recommend it to anyone.

George Watkins is immediately engaging as Scott - his pent-up physicality signalling his volatile emotional state. Alongside him are Jordan Edgington and Henry Fewster as particularly malicious thugs. The directors’ (Laura Donovan and Kate Strickland) decision to stereotype all three as trackie-wearing, Stella-can-crushing, greasy-haired louts is clichéd. However, the three actors effectively unnerve us: Edgington’s compulsive, nervous giggling is a potent reminder of his impressionability which has fed into this dangerous group mentality. Cleverly, they even make us laugh at points, making us feel acutely guilty when we are drawn back by Billy’s victimisation.

Jamie Manton’s fragile performance as Billy vividly juxtaposes George Watkins’ powerful physical presence. However, Manton is the weakest performer in this production; as the lead, this significantly lessened the overall power. He appears unsure of himself, rushing his lines and missing the meaning of the words. Hannah Lawrence must be commended for her performance as Adele, clutching at the sleeves of her (distractingly bright) jumper in order to get across her character’s extreme frustration. Ryan Whittle was also fantastic as Billy’s father, and managed to give some sense of his being older, despite the odd casting choice of both Whittle and Manton looking close in age.

A significant problem I had with the production was down to the script; Simon Stephens’ play is preoccupied with the facts of the plot. He sacrifices thematic and character development for the continuous going over of past events in order for the audience to piece together a story. There were some parts of this play that I would have liked to have seen more of: the relationship between Billy and his father, and the issues raised surrounding bullying. On top of this, people show up on stage with little explanation; Billy and Adele instantly trust each other without ever having spoken before - the problems abound.

As if there wasn’t already gratuitous use of tension, the violence in this production made my fellow reviewer feel physically ill. The play's climax, performed in such a way which must surely leave the actors completely shaken, was horrifying to watch. At one point in the play, Adele says: “I feel like I’m just waiting for something horrible to happen” - this accurately describes what it is like to be an audience member. This production team have potential, however their choice of play for a 12.30pm slot is perhaps not a wise one.

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