Anahera is truly not an easy watch – a play that evokes genuine fear and raises controversial and uncomfortable questions, the audience are witnesses to this horrific case study into the age old debate surrounding the battle of nature versus nurture.
The play is split between two time periods. Half of the play is set ten years in the past, as we watch our title character comfort the parents of Harry, who has recently gone missing. Slowly the events surrounding his disappearance are brought to life by Anahera, as she crosses the line of protocol to get to the truth. Ten years in the future, we see the same family, still dealing with the consequences of their past.
It is only in retrospect that I can truly appreciate Emma Kinane’s skillful inclusion of a range of issues in her play; in the moment, the insertion of the array of themes is seamless enough for them to feel completely natural. The script addresses various highly charged debates that many watching will have an opinion on, but it is able to drop such bombshells without letting them clumsily blow up in the audience’s faces. The script feels like it lives and breathes the same instinct and gutsiness it takes to perform it, forming a play which pulsates with an ominous sense of drama throughout. I couldn’t necessarily tell you what the conclusion of the play is, but there’s plentiful material for educated speculation.
This play requires a cast with a substantial emotional range, but more importantly the tact to use it in the most effective manner. Although this balancing act isn’t always maintained, each individual’s strength comes together to make an ensemble which manages to navigate this tempestuous story. Acushla-Tara Kupe as Anahera is the calm in this storm, with their portrayal of a newly qualified social worker endearing, if not slightly transparent at times. Ironically, the layers we see through to are what I wish could be delved into rather than skated around. Caroline Faber and Rupert Wickham pack the biggest punch emotionally, being able to frighten me with their erupting tempers and perverted parenting techniques.
A play which spans a 20 year timeline depends on good staging and set to assist the flow of the play’s structure. Alice Kornitzer’s direction has carefully considered how best to make each transition smooth and coherent. Alongside Emily Bestow’s set design, a piece which could leave the audience scrambling for structure, becomes a smooth and significantly symbolic staging.
Anahera presents us with two polar opposite character types, with stances that are quite black and white. Within this dynamic, the audience occupy the grey area between, thrown into this play which innately inspires internal debate.
Anahera is playing the Finborough Theatre until 28 September. For more information and tickets, visit the Finborough Theatre website.