The Herd

Sep 16 2022 | By More

★★★☆☆       Ruminating

Church Hill Theatre: Thurs 15 – Sat 17 Sept 2022
Review by Thom Dibdin

There is plenty to chew over in Threepenny Theatricals studied production of The Herd, by Rory Kinnear, at the Church Hill Theatre until Saturday.

Kinnear has come up with some meaty stuff and the 3dT’s get to grips with it with some excellent performances, although there needs to be a bit more of dynamic to the direction in places for the full flavour of the play itself to come out as it might.

Fiona Main. Pic: Darren Coutts

Set firmly in 2013 – a copy of the Daily Telegraph celebrating Andy Murray’s first Wimbledon title is just one of many excellent period props that show clear attention to detail – it is also the day that a different Andy is due to come home for his 21st Birthday.

This Andy is quadriplegic as a result of loss of oxygen during birth and has been living in a care home for some time. A home visit is a complex process and has to fit in to the timetables of the care home itself, as much as the desire for his family to be there to wish him happy birthday.

While Andy is at the centre of the play, it is as much about the family itself and the way they have created themselves to look after him and how his very existence has moulded the family unit. This is family – but family in extremis.

His mother, Carol, is constantly on the phone the home and to his carer, waiting on his arrival for a celebratory dinner. His sister Claire, older than Andy by a dozen years, has her own life to live and has invited her new boyfriend Mark up from Brighton for the day.

Carol’s parents, Patricia and Brian, have come over in a taxi, as usual it would seem. But uninvited and unexpectedly, Andy’s father Ian, who abandoned the family when Andy was five, turns up on the doorstep.

Rebekah Lansley and Oliver Trotter. Pic: Ross Main

If much of what happens feels familiar territory, Kinnear reveals it well and uses such devices as phoning and older people’s needs with great natural ease to ensure that there is a flow to the whole piece as its two hours passes in real time.

With greater artifice, he might have created a space for an interval. As it is, its rhythm ensures there is absolutely no need for one. The company create such compelling characters that the whole thing is gripping all the way through – and with such investment that you want them to rectify their most obvious mistakes.

Fiona Main’s Carol is brilliantly observed martyr to her own cause. The sort of mother who tells you to do what you are already doing and expects you to have done those things she asked you to do when you were out the room.

As Claire, Rebekah Lansley hits a high note of stress a bit too early in the production – leaving her with nowhere else to go. But her body language is frighteningly on point. If her hair wasn’t scraped back tight, you know she would be compulsively pulling at an end and winding it round a finger.

The tricky moment for her is the arrival of Mark, who Oliver Trotter makes as doting and wanting to express his love for as ever you could manage. Their moments of tenderness feel very real – as does Claire’s inability to trust and consequent pushing him away.

Dorothy Johnstone and Simon Boothroyd. Pic: Darren Coutts

Dorothy Johnstone’s Patricia is possibly the performance of the whole piece, giving strong understanding to how her character notorious nosiness has grown out of her own daughter’s rejection.

Simon Boothroyd brings a realistic incapacity to Brian, who walks with a stick and has to be helped in and out of his chair. Boothroyd clearly relishes the Shakespeare-quoting, spoons-playing side of the role but is more than capable of reading the riot act to his erstwhile son-in-law.

If these are all meaty roles, James Dickson’s Ian is much more vapid and nebulous. He is, as are all the characters to some extent, an agent of his own downfall. No matter how many opportunities he is given to make good, and one of the play’s great notes is the way shared memory can overcome hatred, he never takes it.

Carol Main also directs the piece and is well-served by an open-plan kitchen-sitting room set, lit by Gordon Hughes. Mostly her direction is to good effect and the big ensemble moments are a delight. There are times, though, particularly in the latter parts of the play, where it begins to feel stationary and when an outside eye would have helped.

That said, this is an enthralling piece of theatre. Here are hints of darkness and comedy. Ultimately, though, in what is starkly familiar (no matter the circumstance), it finds its tragedy in those who are unable to accept the love of those who would be closest to them.

Running time: Two hours (no interval)
Church Hill Theatre, 33 Morningside Road, EH10 4DR.
Thurs 15 – Sat 17 Sept 2022
Evenings: 7.30pm; Sat Mat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

Threepenny Theatricals website:
Facebook: @3pennytheatre
Twitter: @3penny_theatre

Fiona Main, Rebekah Lansley, Oliver Trotter, James DIckson, Simon Boothroyd and Dorothy Johnstone. Pic: Ross Main


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