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Herons, Lyric Hammersmith Review: Culture Whisper says: ★★★★★
At its heart, Simon Stephens' Herons is the simple story of a boy and a school bully who drag one another to the edge of mental illness.
The action picks up a year after Billy's father helped convict a young man for drowning a girl in the East End's River Lea, at a time when the criminal's younger brother Scott is tormenting podgy, school-nerd Billy. Stephens spares the audience nothing in depicting the bottomless depravities of schoolboy bullying and the violent capabilities of children.
When Stephens' play first came out 15 years ago to critical acclaim at the Royal Court, it premiered at the time when the murders of Damilola Taylor and James Bulger were still fresh in the public memory. Stephens isn't interested in the clean condemnation that we read in newspapers following these apparently baseness acts. He wants to examine the boys' souls, to tease out why and how they behave as they do, to muddy the water between good and bad behaviour, right and wrong.
Something of Billy and Scott's hidden natures are revealed in the course of the play, as the power balance between them reverses. Billy's ordeal at the hands of his tormentor builds him up: he becomes increasingly desperate and reckless, certainly, but also stronger. Conversely, Scott is weighed down by the family violence he has inherited, left empty following the confrontation with Billy and his own repellent acts, and is spotlighted in the final moments of the play alone, weeping and small.
The idea behind the play may be simple, but the writing is menacing and provocative, with two central chasing questions: 'will we still get to go to heaven?', and 'do you feel children are no longer allowed to have childhoods?'.
The set heightens the tense and brooding atmosphere of Stephen's script. The stage is flooded with water, where characters splash around representing both herons and the fish they hunt — and liberally splashing those sitting on the front row! The rolling film of monkeys fighting on a screen somewhat over-works the 'concrete jungle' metaphor, but has its poignant moments, and the black blockade that leaks water as Billy's self-control reaches breaking point is a compelling visual metaphor.
This is the first time Herons had had a major revival. 15 years on, it still feels topical and timely. Director Sean Holmes' production makes Herons an emotionally exhausting watch, which probes perceptions about the nature of cruelty and strength.
|What||Herons, Lyric Hammersmith review|
Lyric Square, King St, W6 0QL | MAP
|Nearest tube||Hammersmith (Piccadilly and District lines) (underground)|
15 Jan 16 – 13 Feb 16, 7:30 PM – 9:30 PM
|Price||£15 - £35|
|Website||Click here to book via Lyric Hammersmith|