Papatango-winning play Here sits too long in its silence. It’s somewhat justifiable and understandable, to make us to feel eerily present in the drama unfolding in front of us, but it lacks a certain weight to make things feel tight, claustrophobic, awkward or tense.
Disappointing, really, seeing as we view the entirety of the boxed-in production through a semi-transparent, mesh-like fabric on all sides. The family at the centre of Clive Judd’s feud all feel suffocated in their own way, and in that sense, Jasmine Swan’s design is a nice touch.
As such, I would have been fine with another dramatic domestic. They usually follow the same format, and they at least offer some diversity in the cultures they choose to explore. Yet in this case, the Brummie quartet comprising Matt (Sam Baker-Jones of The Walk-In), Jess (Hannah Millward of Broadchurch), Auntie Monica (EastEnders’ Lucy Benjamin) and Uncle Jeff (Coronation Street’s Mark Frost) just want to offload their grievances and strifes onto any fellow family member willing to listen.
Matt appears to have something going on with his absent mother, Jess is full of stereotypical angst, Monica hates someone named Sarah (I still don’t know who that is) and Jeff has his own parental problems. All of these subplots would be enough for a two-and-a-half hour production, yet discussions about believing in ghosts and the supernatural derail the narrative to the extent where we don’t know if Judd was looking to write a ghost story or a domestic where it’s all one big happy family at the end.
It mostly comes down to the tone and ambience created by director George Turvey and the tedious, cyclical nature of the play’s exposition from Judd. Most of the first act is desperately repetitive and lazy, with the majority of the characters always reliant on alcohol to make their revelations, rather than the intense atmosphere prompting them to speak up.
It follows the routine of an argument, an exaggerated pause, and then bizarre small talk about crisps, tap water or the chicken kievs kickstart the next conversation. The silences lack potency before the interval, because the first half of the play seeks to plant the seeds of tension. You can’t feel the full impact of an awkward silence when the context – or rather, the animosity – is still yet to be fully established. The fact that the upset character regularly walks to the sink with their back to the audience doesn’t help matters either.
Save for Jeff getting frustrated about the kievs and Matt hearing some weird noises on his recording device (he’s capturing ambience for an atmospheric music project), act one is a sluggish set-up for act two.
At least some of the acting makes it bearable. Baker-Jones delivers a hilarious standout performance as an outspoken, care-free Matt who has to have a shower before a bath, two towels and loves the tap water. He plays masterfully with the general awkwardness of the play to land some light-hearted, humorous dialogue. Meanwhile, it’s hard to hear almost all of Jess’ lines, as Millward lacks a certain diction and projection compared to the others. Monica and Jeff have a sharp, snappy exchange when their relationship comes under strain, but with the exception of Matt’s ridiculousness, there is little to make us care about the family struggles. While there are some clever connections across conversations (such as Jeff’s phone being in the freezer, for some reason), nothing leaps from the script to offer a more fresh, profound take on the importance of family, spiritualism, or talking things out. The four aren’t all exactly on friendly terms come the play’s finals scenes, and we don’t know if Jeff and Monica’s relationship has been broken beyond repair.
It all feels pointless, and it just draws me to the conclusion that they should all go and see a therapist where they can all unpick their emotional baggage without the crutch of a bottle of wine.
Here isn’t sure what it wants to be, or what it wants to say, and it exhausts itself with repetition and clichés in trying to figure that out over its lengthy running time – at the end of which, we’re tired and exhausted too.
Here is now playing at Southwark Playhouse until 3 December, with relaxed performances on 23 and 26 November.
Production Images: The Other Richard.
Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘Here’ in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this article and all opinions stated above are honest and my own.