It seems far too much of a coincidence that I’ve woken up, after seeing Hero the night before, to my twitter feed totally clogged with people twitting their disbelief at the UKIP parliamentary candidate Winston McKenzie airing his view on breakfast TV, that same-sex couples should not be allowed to adopt children. It seems that E. V. Crowe has written a truly relevant play. The modern day hero of the play is gay primary school teacher Danny, who with husband Joe is going through the process of being approved to adopt a child. Their straight friend Jamie, also a primary teacher, has a lot of problems with this, and, to be honest, with being gay in general.
Yet despite being easily labeled as “relevant”, the play refreshing refuses to get weighed down in the politics. It is a play about four characters and their stories, and as part of the audience I didn’t feel like I was an object at which to throw a load of social views, which is what it could easily feel like. Instead of focusing solely on the main issue, you find yourself asking questions. What does it mean to be a hero in today’s society? Are we dependent on those hero figures? Is there still a time and place to act ‘normal’? However, there is almost a sense that these issues are not given quite enough airtime, and instead the play takes brief detours on some seemingly unrelated tangents, that ever-so-slightly blur the focus. However, this should not draw attention away from what is a great new piece of writing.
The dialogue itself is fast paced. The cast’s performances are unerringly compelling. Liam Garrigan as Danny has a quiet charisma and gives a very believable performance of Danny’s unwavering positivity and idealism. Tim Steel, playing his husband Joe, is also wonderfully portrayed in this much calmer, quieter role. Against the likeability of Danny and Joe, Daniel Mays’s brilliantly acted character Jamie can almost be seen as immature and ridiculously self-absorbed. His over-reaction to a child at the school calling him ‘gay’ throws doubts over his own sexuality and starts a series of events that spirals quickly out of control. His wife Lisa, played by Susannah Wise, is a slightly under-written role, but Wise creates a very grounded character which contrasts starkly with Jamie’s seeming mental breakdown. Mike Britton’s design, along with Rick Fisher’s and Ian Dickinson’s light and sound design, created atmosphere and added to the tension towards the end of the play.
Under the direction of Jeremy Herrin (who also directed her first play Kin in 2010), Crowe’s brilliant writing bonces off all four walls of the studio theatre. Hero is a great piece of new writing, simply because the characters come first, and issues raised are explored through the reality of their lives. The script, the acting, the design and the direction all come together to create a compelling piece of theatre.
Hero is running at the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs at The Royal Court until the 22 December 2012