Happy Valley star Amit Shah, who starred as the villainous pharmacist Faisal in the third and final series of the hit crime drama at the start of this year, is back in the countryside in his latest role – but with a twist. With surrealist sequences, random reincarnations and a dash of banana milk, writer and director Christopher Neel’s Hummingbird is in fact a tender tale of grief’s power to stagnate – to be caught between the consuming loss of the past and the daunting uncertainty of hope for the future.
It concerns the disappearance of Phoeb’s (Louise Beresford) husband Gavin, believed dead by police but considered missing by half-sister Jude (Magic Goes Wrong’s Nancy Zamit, who is no stranger to farce, of course) and her partner Brian (Shah) – that is, until Phoeb believes Gav has come to her in the form of a hummingbird, while staying on the couple’s farm, and wants her to fly off a cliff with him/it. If that wasn’t ridiculous enough, there’s outrageous NSFW lines about milking cows (which don’t bear repeating here), and even a musical number at one point about the ideal home Jude dreams of.
That’s because, at the heart of all this silliness, Hummingbird is a play about dreams. When she’s not mediating arguments between Phoeb and Brian over a game of Monopoly, Jude wants to try for a child, but is hindered by a whining, frustrated Brian’s annoyance at Phoeb’s sudden arrival and talk of Gavin, when he had just finished dealing with and processing the considerable admin that came following his friend’s disappearance. Brian himself, meanwhile, is hindered in his space project about Jupiter because of Gavin going missing. Life is on hold for the pair of them, and just how long can they endure that plateau?
While the scenes border on the repetitive (so many involve Brian walking into the kitchen, bothered by something, before the scene ends with red lighting and crackling static), there are some inventive ideas deployed in the set design, comprising two kitchen cupboards, a table and several washing lines. For some scenes a cloth across the back of the stage doubles as a makeshift bed for Jude and Brian to talk through the day’s events. It’s a small set change, but a smart one, and Brian’s late night stargazing on the cliffs against starry projections is just as imaginative too.
What’s also impressive is just how profound otherwise casual comments can seem when everything else is so abstract and otherworldly. “It’s not natural if you have to force yourself to do it” and “without proof, there’s hope” are two examples, with the latter being all the more devastating when we learn just how misplaced Brian’s hope is at the end of it all. After an hour submerged in the superfluous, Hummingbird crashes back to reality in a pretty shocking fashion, leaving deep questions about closure hovering in the air.
Hummingbird is now playing at VAULT Festival until 5 March.
Production Images: Bruised Sky Productions/Fledgling Theatre Company.
Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘Hummingbird’ for free 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.