The initial artwork for Johnathan Harvey’s Hushaby Mountain hints at the Angels in America aesthetic and the content resembles a British reflection of such a story. Performances from a star studding cast include that of Jodie Prenger (Beryl), Layton Williams (Connor) and Nathan McMullen (Danny), who engulf the complicated entanglements of love, relationship and life after death during the 1980’s Aids epidemic.
The story starts with Prenger playing the saddened mother turned mad at the exiling of her son and his subsequent death. In her insanity she seems to morph into different musical stars such as Judy Garland, which Prenger executes to perfection. These imitations then blur into dream-like sequences with her son, Danny, who is waiting to be taken to heaven. However, it is this mix of reality and the extraordinary that makes the audience question if Prenger’s madness is also connected to her son’s passing.
These fantastical segments are enveloped within the naturalistic drama of Harvey’s writing. The impact of Danny’s death within the present is woven in-between scenes of his life from the past. With this we see the strong connections from his best friend (Amy Dunn), her husband (Matt Henry) and Danny’s boyfriend (Layton Williams) and how their rebellious friendship created a legacy of memories to both support and remind them of who they have lost.
Nick Bagnall’s direction effectively elevates these small but powerful glimpses of grief. Together with the seamless transitions around a somewhat intimate studio space and the lighting transitions from present to past, the performance was smooth, and radiated a clarity that almost mimicked a timeline. A respect to the ticking clock of a man waiting for death, but also the unexpecting joys of the constant movement of life.
The pink hues that spread across the stage to indicate the past, caught my eye the most in the dinner table scene. It was only until this hue faded to grey and the fourth dining room chair became vacant that the painful friction between present and past is sometimes unbearably uncomfortable and yet solemnly silent. Not only this, but the collaborative performance from Dunn, Henry and Williams within this time warp, elevated the essence of pain within coping.
With current shows like ‘It’s a Sin’ creating awareness of the impact of Aids on the British LGBTQ+ community, it shows how it is still a great tragedy that deserves to be expressed through TV, film and theatre. Hushaby Mountain further aids this cause to promote visibility to those who died due to the epidemic, preventing their voices to be lost and capturing the emotional hardships that lie underneath the heartless statistics that we recognise.
This show has the underlying quality of a full West End production, and I have no doubt that once the theatres open, this production will experience the live stage audience it deserves. However, the film production of Hushaby cannot go un-noticed. In portraying such a heart-warming story, Bagnall commands the visual of the piece with ease. Despite the occasional tacky throw of confetti, the visuals perfectly matched the scale of the performance. To a story we have seen recreated for years within theatre, this production presents itself as intimately emotional and quintessentially British.
Hushaby Mountain is playing on Stream.Theatre until the 20th of June 2021. For more information and tickets, see: stream.theatre