HIR is a black comedy that dissects the dysfunctionality of family and the general disarray that describes life, and is easily one of the best works produced of late by Black Swan Theatre Company.
Igor Sas in HIR. Image by Daniel James Grant.
From the minute you walk into the theatre and are hit in the face by the fullness of Tyler Hills splendidly detailed set, you know you are in for a treat.
Isaac (Will O’Mahony) has returned home after serving three years on the frontlines of war, picking up body parts for the Mortuary Affairs department no less. The madness from whence he came is nothing compared to the squat-like turmoil that remains of his former comfortable home, and from there the journey begins.
Toni Scanlan plays matriarch Paige, who by her own admission has descended into deeper madness since the sons departure, with a switched on fluidity and sass. Scanlan veers between required complete battiness and being the sanest character in the room with ease. Paige doesn’t do 'places, order or cupboards anymore' and is more concerned with having her paradigms shifted than keeping house, and Scanlon brings every scatty person we know in reality, to life.
Igor Sass doesn’t say much, but he doesn’t have to. His portrayal of beleaguered stroke victim, Arnold is difficult to watch, yet impossible not to. This is a man that has been pushed to the edge – Arnold’s descent into a brutal patriarch began when he lost his long-term trade position to a Chinese-American woman, and Paige relishes in her contempt and pleasure of her husbands relatively new vulnerable position. You will never see a better use of a spray bottle on stage, guaranteed.
The scene between Sass and Mahony has a particular strength that is rarely seen on any stage, highlighting the strength of both actors.
Will O’Mahony is a prolific artist – actor, writer, director, is there nothing this man cannot do? Isaac is no walk in the park, and O’Mahony is perfect. This is a character who has been honourably discharged from service for the not so common reason of being 'caught blowing meth up his asshole', yet evokes audience sympathy as we witness his wounded bewilderment as to what his dream of home and family has become, and how he navigates the strange path laid in front of him.
When Isaac left for Afghanistan he had a little sister, on his return he learns that Max has recently come out as transgender and has started to grow a beard. Jack Palit is somewhat awkward as Max, a character that deserves steady and strong speech as a representative of the social isolation often felt by transgendered folk.
The histrionics of the second half are slightly madder than the solid and beautifully written first half deserve, but Taylor Mac’s script is interesting captivating, exploratory and raw to the end, and all theatre that causes audiences to discuss goings on rather than forget, wins in my book.
HIR reeks (in a fabulous way) of Off Broadway and has all the hallmarks of a modern classic. I would even go as far as to say that HIR deserves to be in the main theatre, rendering the ‘Dull House’ (Summer of the Seventeenth Doll) to the smaller studio, to find the louder voice brought by the wider and more mainstream audience of the big house, which it merits.
HIR is a beautiful mess that is cruel, vicious, in your face, funny, and weirdly relatable – even if you’ve never blown meth up your butt with a straw.
4 ½ stars: ★★★★☆
By Taylor Mac
CAST INCLUDES: Will O’Mahony, Jack Palit, Igor Sas, Toni Scanlan
DIRECTOR: Zoe Pepper
SET DESIGNER: Tyler Hill, COSTUME DESIGNER: Tarryn Hill, COMPOSER/SOUND DESIGNER: Brett Smith, LIGHTING DESIGNER: Lucy Birkinshaw,
FIGHT DIRECTOR: Andy Fraser, VOICE & DIALECT COACH: Luzita Fereday
VENUE: Studio Underground
SUITABILITY 16+ WARNING Adult themes, strong language
10 – 27 May
State Theatre Centre
First published on
What the stars mean?
- Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
- Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
- Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
- Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
- Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
- Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
- Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
- One star: Awful, to be avoided
- Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level