Of Kith and Kin @ Bush Theatre

Written by Chris Thompson, Of Kith and Kin is a compelling piece of new writing exploring issues surrounding surrogacy and relationships. With elements of humour weaved into dark themes, and some genuinely terrific performances, the show is an engaging way to delve into a challenging subject.

Oliver (Joshua Silver) and Daniel (James Lance) are having a baby with the help of their surrogate Priya (Chetna Pandya). The couple is smitten with each other and excited for the arrival of their new baby. But when Daniel’s mum (Joanna Bacon) crashes their baby shower, Oliver isn’t pleased with their uninvited guest, the small problems in their relationship rise to the surface. And when Daniel becomes physical with Oliver, Priya starts to think differently about the couple, and their new baby.
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Photo: Helen Murray

Lance commands the stage with ease, giving a very strong performance as the tenacious, and sometimes scary, Daniel. As his husband, Silver’s youthful Oliver is likeable at the start, but it quickly becomes apparent that he too has some dark and unpleasant traits. Both actors compliment each other well on stage.

Pandya’s Priya is sassy and sensitive and is heartbreaking to watch in the final scene. Donna Berlin as the judge is eloquent in her performance, but sometimes her lines feel awkward. This is especially apparent when she makes an uncomfortably placed joke, which feels slightly odd and uncharacteristic of an authority figure.

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Photo: Helen Murray

Bacon stands out the most as Daniel’s mum Carrie and draws out genuine laughter from the audiences as soon as she opens her mouth. At times her character is cringe-worthy and obnoxious, but you can’t help but delight in how she bursts onto the stage. Bacon also doubles as Priya’s solicitor Joanna, a role that comes across as more articulate and composed than the hot-headed Carrie, but with an equally powerful presence on stage. She is a delight to watch.

Thompson’s own experiences as a social worker have undoubtedly affected the story, and the emotions evoked in his text feel very raw. With Robert Hastie’s direction, the play is brought to life with incredible energy, each scene slowly building up to a dynamic event. Full of unexpected turns and character traits that come as a surprise, Of Kith and Kin is an enjoyable play that shines a light on contemporary, real-life domestic issues, and the sacrifices people make for loved ones.

Of Kith and Kin is at the Bush Theatre 25th November.

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Hir @ Bush Theatre

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.

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Photo: Ellie Kurttz

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.

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Photo: Ellie Kurttz

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.

Guards at the Taj @ Bush Theatre

The newly re-developed Bush Theatre building boasts a more sustainable and a completely accessible space. The revamped theatre now has an additional studio space and an attic rehearsal room, allowing for more work to be produced. Rajiv Joseph’s Guards at the Taj is the new building’s first show, and a great choice to open the renovated space. With brilliant humour, dark themes and two strong performers, the play is a superb imagining of the myths surrounding Shah Jahan and the Taj Mahal, and a wonderful performance.

Best friends Humayun (Danny Ashok) and Babur (Darren Kuppan) are guarding the Taj Mahal. It’s been 16 years in the making, and finally, it’s almost complete. But the emperor has declared that no one, apart from those in charge of building it, shall look at the Taj until it is finished. Babur desperately wants to sneak a glance of the most beautiful monument in the world, but Humayun is apprehensive. After all, going against the emperor has terrible consequences, which the guards soon find out.

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Photo: Marc Brenner

Soutra Gilmour’s dark and ominous bare set serves as a perfect canvas to Ashok and Kuppan’s performances, who deliver the task of bringing to life Joseph’s India extremely well. Kuppan is loveable as Babur, constantly making fun of Humayun’s seriousness with admiration and love. He performs Babur’s humour with delight and equally presents the character’s guilty turmoil with great sympathy. Opposite him, Ashok’s caring and concerned Humayun is powerful, and the two have incredible chemistry. The friendship projected onto the stage is moving, and there is a particularly touching moment where Ashok meticulously washes blood off Kuppan’s body, taking care to remove every last bit. This gentle action beautifully captures the deep love the two characters have for each other, and a scene that has the potential to be funny or awkward becomes tender with Jamie Lloyd expert direction.

Joseph’s text is a striking exploration of duty and friendship that weaves folklore and fact into an energetic 80 minutes. The characters are empathetic and complex, so there is never a dull moment, especially as both actors do well in engaging the audience and animating the minimal stage. Guards at the Taj is a great piece of work, and an excellent way to open the new and improved Bush Theatre.

Guards at the Taj is at the Bush Theatre until 20th May.