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Theatre review Tear the house down

SIMON PARSONS relishes the revival of a highly original play that explores the reinvention of a family that rejects traditional gender roles

Hir
Park Theatre

TAYLOR MAC’s highly original play establishes a surreal, darkly comic tone from the outset. We find the man of the house in a pink nightdress and clown’s make-up sitting docilely beneath a hippy-like banner with an 11-letter acronym for diverse sexual identities in what looks like a trashed kitchen. 

But the play does much more than simply question traditional sexual identities.

Returning from Afghanistan suffering with a form of PTSD, ex-marine Isaac (Steffan Cennydd) is faced with a home in chaos. His mother Paige has seized on her husband’s mentally incapacitating stroke as the chance for personal freedom and reinvention. Rejecting traditional, stereotypical female values and revelling in her daughter’s hormone-induced gender realinement, she is on a tumultuous quest to find a fresh, non-materialistic identity while keeping her husband drugged up and in fancy dress.

As the play develops, Felicity Huffman’s carefree, quixotic mother’s disorganised, self-centred world starts to make sense as the impulsive reaction to an oppressively abusive marriage, the debris of her life in its own way mirroring the carnage faced by the way her son Isaac recovered useless body parts from Afghanistan battlegrounds. 

Max, the eponymous hir played by Thulia Dudek, gives a sensitive performance as the radical daughter with a no-holds barred teenage exploration of hir rudderless identity, increasingly torn between Paige’s overriding crusade for a new world and vicarious excitement in her daughter’s transformation, and Isaac’s desperate need for the stability of traditional order even though it had failed him as a boy. 

Ceci Calf’s gloriously messy set transforms into a child-like model of a house as the family’s shabby, broken starter home, built on a former refuse dump, becomes the new battleground between mother and son for a future that is more than the discarded scraps of the past.

Director Steven Kunis does a wonderful job balancing the tension and humour, moving from semi-farce to a more tragic vein without ever becoming sententious. The outstanding cast gradually delve below the absurd elements to mine serious questions of traditional identities that have been locked up behind negative patterns of behaviour.

Although only seven years since the original production, this revival is even more topical now with the explosion of so many divisive issues concerning sexual identities, and it is a winning alternative from the wide range of recent, more predictably emotive dramas exploring identity crises. 

Runs until 16th March. Box Office 020 7870 6876, parktheatre.co.uk

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