Taylor Mac’s satire Hir focuses on a typical American family that at one point in time might have been the perfect representation of the American Dream, but now this family has abandoned any form of order or convention. While some may see this as a cause for celebration, it’s met with disgust by others. Directed by Nadia Fall, and performed by a terrific cast, Hir is an exciting timely addition to the Bush Theatre’s reopening season.
Isaac (Arthur Darvill) has just returned from serving in the war to find his home unrecognizable. His dad Arnold (Andy Williams), once the head of the household and the breadwinner, is now a “vegetable” dressed up in a clown wig. His mum Paige (Ashley McGuire) has stopped cleaning the house and refuses to take care of Arnold. And his sister Max (Griffyn Gilligan) no longer accepts the pronouns she or her, but prefers ze or hir. All Isaac wants to do is get back to normal, but that’s hard when normal doesn’t exist anymore.
The cast is terrific and really do justice to Mac’s text, and with Fall’s direction, the writer’s language is made prominent in this energetic staging. With long speeches, Paige takes her time explaining her new found knowledge of the LGBTQ+ community and queer politics. It’s during these speeches that McGuire’s excitable Paige really commands the stage, like her character has taken charge of her life, bringing to life Mac’s comedy brilliantly. Equally, Gillian deliver’s Max’s monologues with compassion – in particular, hir speech about Leonardo da Vinci being a trans woman is entertaining to watch and is a demonstration of Mac’s creative imagination.
Darvill portrays the bewildered Isaac well, his physical comedy is especially gross and funny – although it is difficult to get used to his American accent at first. But its Williams that slyly steals the show in his own way – you won’t be able to stop watching him, even though his presence can make you feel uncomfortable. Arnold is pitiful at the start, covered in make-up by his wife and forced to wear a dress – the ultimate humiliation for a man who used to epitomise masculinity. His stroke has made him unable to do things for himself so it’s tough to watch Paige degrade him. But as the play goes on and Arnold’s true abusive nature is revealed, it’s hard to feel sorry for how he is treated by his wife and Max.
Finally, Ben Stones’ chaotic set also deserves a mention too as it fully captures the breakdown of this small town family, and the attention to detail is immaculate – there is method to its madness. Hir is packed full of concepts that can be quite baffling for some people, and it is obvious that the show is not everyone’s cup of tea. But it’s full of energy, laughs and themes that get darker as the play goes on, so you can’t really pull yourself away from it.
Hir is at the Bush Theatre until 22nd July.