Review – Him, Just Bear Theatre Company, University of Northampton Flash Festival, St. Peter’s Church, Marefair, Northampton, 16th May 2016

HimI’m going to add an additional first paragraph to the words I had already decided to write about this production, because, beforehand, I simply didn’t understand the play but now I have read someone else’s review of it, I could kick myself for having been so obtuse. The play now makes much more sense to me. However, I didn’t get it at the time, and there’s no point pretending I did. So, with that little aside out of the way, here are my original thoughts about Him. And I only wish I could be more generous.

As Snoopy might have written, it was a dark and stormy night… But there is an old church that serves as a refuge for Happy; he has done his best to make it comfortable with a music system, a kettle, a sofabed and his girlfriend – Her. Three portentous knocks at the door disturb their domestic peace. Fearing the worst, Happy gets the girl to run and hide before the intruder finally enters. They don’t recognise each other at first, but eventually Isaac (the new arrival) reveals that he does indeed know Happy and they go back… way back when. Quite what their previous relationship was we don’t really know. I think it involved Her, but it might not be the same Her as this Her. Eventually, when Happy is satisfied that there is no danger and he wants to introduce her to Isaac, he goes and brings her back on stage.

And that, gentle reader, is the point at which you either love this play or you find it so unfathomable that the temptation is to give up trying to understand what’s going on. Now, believe me, I do appreciate the enormous amount of time, effort, originality, talent and so many other excellent elements that go to make up the creation of a live performance. And I am the last person to want to discourage or take pleasure in anyone’s failures. I will always look for the good things in a theatre performance because I want to enjoy myself and it’s the good things that help you do that. But if, at the end of the day, you conclude that you really didn’t enjoy it at all, there is no point keeping a review blog unless you say so. Alas.

Him tooBack to the play and the reappearance of Her. As your loyal and faithful reviewer, I did my utmost to keep up with the nuances of the writing; but what you’re presented with is something, on the face of it, so ludicrous, that I really had to battle to keep engaged or find any positives. All I can say for certain is that she is not her as we have known Her. She may be a metaphor for… something? She may have different significance for different people. She may be real to one and false to the other. Or, the whole thing might just be Theatre of the Absurd in extremis. I like to think I wouldn’t have been one of the people who walked out on the first night of Waiting for Godot, but maybe I would…? And why Chuck Berry? Maybe I was supremely slow on the uptake on this one, but I would have liked to have been thrown just some tiny morsel of understanding – give the audience a break, guys!

Jack Alexander Newhouse spoke Happy’s lines so quietly overall that it was really hard to make out much of what he said – and I was sitting in the second row of pews! Surely from the back of the church it would have resembled a silent movie. His facial expressions were good but again minimalistic so you got precious little sense of drama. It was as though you were observing someone’s conversations from a long way away, when you wouldn’t expect to get any sense of what they were talking about. Neizan Fernandez Birchwood’s projection as Isaac was stronger and clearer – although I would still have liked more – and I liked his subtle questioning of his friend’s sanity when Her returns. But that I’m afraid was not enough to sustain approx. 75 minutes of bewilderment.

Him againAsk yourself this question: you are seeking shelter on a cold and stormy night; you find a church; you say to yourself, this could be the perfect place to spend the night. You walk up to the door. What do you do? What I would do is try the door handle. If it is locked I would sigh, leave and find somewhere else to shelter. If it was unlocked, I would slowly open the door to make sure I wasn’t disturbing some service or vigil, and if it appeared to be unoccupied, enter. What I would not do is to thump, portentously, three times on the front door to be allowed into an unlocked church by people you don’t even know are in there. So why did Isaac do that? If there’s a good reason, then it shows that I really didn’t understand the plot at all; if there isn’t a good reason, then…why add further to the incredulity of the whole play?

Regrets to everyone involved but this really did not do it for me at all.

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