Here moves swiftly from laughs to sighs as we watch a family wrangle with their own emotions, grappling with love and loss. An inability to articulate their thoughts and feelings to each other in any meaningful way means they settle on the limitations of what the family dynamic is; hectic, cruel, unforgiving. And yet, somehow, they manage to hang on to their memories of love.
This play gives us a sense of the seen and the unseen, where words and remembrances hang in the air. Memories real and conjured serve to create a truth in time. It’s memory and the passage of time that writer Clive Judd explores so well. With a dialogue style that seemingly moves from Gavin and Stacey to Pinter with amusing ease, Judd explores the effort to coexist which, at times, is just too great. Existence is under the microscope here: who stays and who goes? Who is here or not here? – and if you are not here then where are you? Some characters are in an emotional limbo, some rooted to the spot, unable to see a way to move on. Some sense that here and there are intricately connected, held together with memories, anecdotes, and artifacts; but all are haunted by something from their past.
The caged box set, covered in gauze and designed by Jasmine Swann, is a brilliant visual metaphor for the here and there. We see this family through a haze; not fully defined, not fully tangible but there nonetheless. It’s as if we have departed from their lives, and are looking in. And they, in turn, of course, feel our presence; some hoping there is something elsewhere, some disbelieving. Judd has peppered his script with clues suggesting the other side; the constant coldness in the house, the feeling of those long gone, the talk of grief and longing for reconciliation, a smell, or photo – a sense of things past and yet still here. The dialogue can be tender, shallow, and flippant but is always searingly touching and empathic for those holding on.
Here is skillfully directed by George Turvey, and you never feel excluded from the emotional exploration of the play as it is so physically fluid. This creative team, including sound designer Asaf Zohara and lighting designer Bethany Gupwell. splendidly create shifting atmospheres, which are funny and sunny at times yet chilling and ever so slightly creepy at others
Performances are excellent, with a natural, challenging portrayal from Hannah Millward of a daughter confused and conflicted about sexual identity, love and approbation. She delivers those pent-up emotions not only in the mother and daughter clashes but also with the estranged cousin, Matt (Sam Baker-Jones), who displays a range of emotions that are compelling and moving. He effectively makes a seeming dullard interesting and really does connect with the other side in this powerful, heart-felt performance. Dad is played by Mark Frost, whose aching delivery tells us something of grief, loss, and love; all transcending time and place. He’s a man of faith who hopes, and in his own way he offers the deepest perspective in knowing that some things are too difficult to know or understand. He may be thought small by his wife, but we see so much more. However, it is to Monica, the wife, that full plaudits must go. Lucy Benjamin gives a sterling performance as a woman clinging on to the past and the present while challenged by the future: “Why do we keep missing each other, why do we keep passing through one another…?”
This is an absorbing and moving play that deals intelligently with ideas of memory, seen and unseen connections, and the difficulties of articulating feelings. It’s a very enjoyable watch with splendid performances, and is highly recommended.
Written by: Clive Judd
Directed by: George Turvey
Set & Costume Design by: Jasmine Swan
Lighting Design by: Bethany Gupwell
Composer and Sound Design by: Asaf Zohar
Programmer and Prod LX by: Matt Carnazza
Produced by: Papatango Theatre Company
Here plays at Southwark Playhouse until 3 December. Further information and bookings can be found here.