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Here by Clive Judd at The Large, Southwark Playhouse

The play, so the opening note in the script tells us, “is set in a small kitchen, in a small house, in a small town, on the edge of a small city, in the West Midlands”. A pity, then, that the story wasn’t correspondingly small, but is instead a sprawling mess. Jeff (Mark Frost) believes in Jesus, or at least attends church. Matt (Sam Baker-Jones), meanwhile, believes in ghosts. Jeff’s wife Monica (Lucy Benjamin) seems to be hacked off with everything, although it later transpires there is some justification to some of her anger and frustration. Monica’s daughter Jess (Hannah Millward) goes from being a stroppy teenager in a twenty-something body to having a quarter-life crisis. None of these narratives are properly developed, and by curtain call, there are just as many questions, if not more, as there were at the start.

Sam Baker-Jones (Matt) in Here. Credit The Other Richard.
Sam Baker-Jones (Matt) in Here. Credit The Other Richard.

The humour in the play is, to put it mildly, an acquired taste. “Do you think Jesus was a mushroom?” Matt asks Jeff, which is a bizarre and potentially offensive question to ask someone who evidently practices religion. It’s one of several topics of conversation that are suddenly dropped and never referred to again: why were they there at all?

Jess has a girlfriend called Sarah, an off-stage character detested by Monica on account of Sarah’s date of birth, believing the age gap between Jess and Sarah to be too substantial. Judging by the amount of silence throughout the play from Monica, even when asked questions directly, there probably are other reasons for her displeasure, though she remains an abrasive matriarch to the end.

There’s a translucent screen that separates the stage from the audience, such that absolutely nothing can be seen clearly. The kitchen’s windows lead to the back garden, though it is only evident from the dialogue what time of day or night it is. While some context may otherwise have been supplied by facial expressions, the screen’s distancing effect made it difficult to engage properly with the play. There is so much non-verbal communication, despite a script that runs to one hundred and twenty-six pages, and so much of it is sadly lost.

This is, I strongly suspect, no fault of the cast, who probably were displaying appropriate emotions at appropriate moments, though (at the risk of overlabouring this point) I couldn’t actually tell, because I couldn’t actually see properly. It might as well have been a radio play. At one point, it was: Jess leaves the house, and while the other three characters sit in silence, the sound effects of the front door being closed, a car door being opened and all the intermediate noises between that and Jess driving off could be heard. I’d like to have gone with her, as her evening seemed to be more interesting than the one I observed instead.

There are a couple of heart-to-heart talks, man-to-man and woman-to-woman, that ultimately don’t lead to any breakthrough moments. The play does, to its credit, steer clear of having a sudden, critical incident that immediately and irrevocably changes the lives of its characters, and it is realistic to expect, particularly in a British family, some humour to permeate through difficult conversations and situations.

But at two and a half hours (there is an interval), the sluggish pace made the production feel longer than it was. It says something when Jeff puts more passion into making sure Monica’s instructions about putting a frozen dinner in the oven are followed to the letter than he does about sorting out an infinitely more significant personal matter. Then again, as the personal matters of all the characters are firmly in the realm of first-world problems, it is difficult to have much sympathy with them. Silence can be golden. Too much silence becomes a test of endurance.

2 gold stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

There’s somethin’ about this house. Somethin’ here. Somethin’ in the walls. Its bones. Like DNA.

A family packs into a small house with a tangled history. Matt is here, yearning to reach someone he’s lost. His cousin Jess is here, too; she just wants to feel something. Anything. And Aunt Monica and Jeff are still here, just about. Together, ferocious and funny, they laugh, they scrap, they remember.

Tonight these four people, inextricably bound yet so far apart, will finally confront the old decisions that haunt them. How does a family make a future, when everything that holds it together lies in the past?

Starring: Lucy Benjamin, Mark Frost Sam Baker-Jones, and Hannah Millward

HERE
by Clive Judd
The Large, Southwark Playhouse, 77-85 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6BD
https://www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/

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2 thoughts on “Here by Clive Judd at The Large, Southwark Playhouse”

  1. The reviewer has been very kind to this play – I am surprised he was able to sit through it!

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