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Review of Her Not Him at Theatre 503 London

Her Not Him - Ali Wright
Her Not Him – Ali Wright Twitter: @aliwrightphoto

There’s an element of preaching to the converted in Her Not Him. Those who live and work in London, and have done for some time, and participate – to whatever extent – in anything that may be broadly termed a social life, will probably have heard (or worse still, overheard) the sort of stories and conversations that lie at the heart of this play’s plot. There’s this whole thing about a crossdresser (the term is not actually used in the show itself) who pulls. That isn’t, in the end, what is particularly important, so much as being true to one’s self is. This is an important message, which in some respects cannot be repeated often enough. You’ve heard the saying – be yourself, everyone else is already taken.

The trouble is that we’ve been here before. Kinky Boots, still enjoying good audience figures in the West End and on Broadway, quite literally makes a big song and dance about celebrating ourselves triumphantly, just as Billy Elliot before it found no qualms with people expressing themselves with “individuality”. Even closer to James (John-James Chandler) and his alter ego Jemima in this play, is the title character in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, whose other personality, Mimi Me, is also only ever seen in a frock.

Here, though, none of the characters are all that appealing. Bea (Orla Sanders) makes excuses as to why she can’t spend the night with her lover Ellie (Leah Kirby), and while she makes clear what she doesn’t “want right now”, I came away none the wiser as to what, however vaguely, she did want out of life. Ellie herself has fantasies, perhaps as a form of escapism to counter the grim reality of real life. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with having ambition, towards the end of the play some of her fanciful plans seemed to be motivated by spite. Jemima, meanwhile, is not much better – despite knowing Bea is still in a relationship with Ellie, she gets into a strop all too easily when not everything happens the way she would like it to. Boo-hoo.

It’s one of those plays where the scenes are sometimes very short, making the pace feel deceitfully faster than it really is. Some of the scene changes are, frankly, too repetitive – seeing the same two chairs, two screens and one table move about the stage yet again didn’t really add much to proceedings. The good old blackout would have been more effective, and the production flowed a lot better when one scene followed on from the next with barely if any, set movement at all.

The awkwardness that is reasonably expected from a first encounter came through excellently at the start of the show, and as it continued, some dark humour comes through. More romantic hearts than this reviewer’s might possibly have momentarily questioned in their minds whether one or two of the punchlines should have been laughed at. Mind you, a fellow theatregoer’s ‘exit poll’ verdict was that, overall, the show resonated well with him. I would also like to take into consideration that this is playwright Joanne Fitzgerald’s first full-length play – while this production may not entirely have been to my liking, the storyline is coherent and credible, and the dialogue was a pleasure to listen to.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Bea, an older woman, comes out late in life. She nabs herself a young lover, Ellie, who has aspirations of starting a family and putting them both on a path to domestic bliss. But then Bea meets Jemima who steals her attention
away from Ellie. It all falls apart when Bea finally meets James, the boy beneath Jemima’s make-up, wigs and
glamour, who doesn’t excite her the same way.

Her Not Him was long-listed for the 2017 Bruntwood Prize and marks Lughnacy Productions’ debut: A comedy
drama exploring the very human missteps we make when it comes to sexuality and sexual politics.

CAST
Bea – Orla Sanders
Jemima/James – John James
Ellie – Leah Kirby

Her Not Him
By Joanne Fitzgerald
Lughnacy Productions in association with Theatre503

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