The Omnibus Theatre sits on the edge of Clapham Common, surrounded by grand houses covered in blue plaques. It’s a stunning, imposing building from the front, whilst inside, the staff are welcoming, clearly as thrilled to have audiences return as we are to be back. The outside bar area is a lovely spot for a refreshing gin and tonic on a muggy evening before heading in to the versatile theatre space itself, less imposing than the building itself.
The Human Connection is formed of two plays, both written by Eugene O’Hare. Up first is Larry Devlin wants to talk to you about something that happened. A long-winded title for a short play but one that really packs a punch. Stephen Kennedy portrays Larry, a man at breaking point. INitially he seems to be addressing the audience directly but as the show develops, you realise he’s probably in a therapy session. We hear about Larry’s regret over hitting his son when he was eight, expressing his intense guilt for that moment. It seems to be an image that he can’t forget. But it’s not just that, as the play develops and we learn more about Larry, it becomes a harrowing account of a man suffering from a breakdown.
Kennedy is a fantastic actor, his performance as troubled Larry is both powerful and moving. He makes the audience feel uncomfortable with each startling revelation and the final moments of the play are intensely felt. As mentioned, the play is short, but its emotional intensity is overwhelming and audible sobs can be heard from other audience members come the end.
The second play is Child 786, set during the last year. We meet Lennox, played by Joshua Williams, a young man who has returned home from university, filled with anger and a sense of injustice, questioning why he has to give up his university experience and his youth to protect the elderly and vulnerable. His mum, Hilary, played by Ishia Bennison, is taking a more ‘stiff upper lip’ and ‘let’s all clap together every Thursday’ approach to the pandemic. These contrasting opinions and attitudes towards the pandemic create obvious tensions within their home.
Although engaging, and surprisingly amusing at times, it is just hard to connect with a show covering so many topics and themes. Every conspiracy theory you’ve heard, plus some you hadn’t, seemed to be brought up by Lennox while every, now cliched, anecdote about Asda being busy and keeping spirits up, come from Hilary. There are also some serious undertones referring to Lennox’s mental health struggles and a drug trial that he may, or may not, have been made to take part in as a five-year-old and the fact that this may kill him as a young man. If this sounds confusing, it’s because it is. There are perhaps too many themes and storylines to keep track of and as a result it’s much more of a challenge to stay engaged. However, Williams and Bennison are fantastic in their roles, both utterly believable and it’s enjoyable to watch them play off each other.
It’s sometimes tricky to see more than one play in a night, Larry Devlin wants to talk to you about something that happened is an incredibly tense watch, so any play following it really needs to either match that intensity or take a completely different approach to engage you again. Child 786 did neither for me, but maybe it’s just too soon to have the last year dissected again. After all, we’re all still living with this pandemic.
Written by: Eugene O’Hare
Directed by: Eugene O’Hare
Produced by: Bridget Kalloushi
Human Connections is playing until 4 July. Further details and booking via the below link.