Anahera – The Finborough, London

Writer: Emma Kinane

Director: Alice Kornitzer

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Everything comes together quite wonderfully in Anahera, the new production at The Finborough. Emma Kinane’s script, both realistic and symbolic, is tightly wrought, and under Alice Kornitzer’s direction, as sharp and dangerous as a knife’s edge. Superlative acting, especially from Caroline Faber, guarantees that this play about parenting is as tense as a courtroom drama.

Set in modern-day New Zealand, this portrayal of family relationships contains echoes of Ibsen and Cocteau as a seemingly perfect household is revealed to be a hotbed of lies and fears. 11-year-old Harry has gone missing, and at first his parents appear to be anxious and afraid. But when Anahera, the social worker, arrives to support the family in these difficult hours she sees that perhaps the mother, Liz, is more worried about the work emails she can’t attend to than the whereabouts of her son. The father, Peter, also seems distracted when the young 20-something Anahera turns up, and there are some vague flirtations, which Anahera fleetingly reciprocates.

Anahera is of Maori descent and Liz and Peter bombard her with questions about her religion and her community. Is it true, they ask, that the spirits of the dead accompany the living to doctors’ appointments? Not in her church, Anahera replies, but nevertheless the couple regard the social worker as other, and deep into the play, as an intruder. Her presence, like the policeman in An Inspector Calls, rocks the foundations of their smart and stylish house, where no trace of children linger.

Switching between the present and the future, Kinane’s play ensures that we never know enough, and we wait, engrossed, for the two time periods to collide. Kornitzer directs with an impressive attention to detail, a glossy magazine, open on the coffee table, brandishes the headlines ‘Their Brave New World.’ The cast of five also give detailed performances with Caroline Faber, in her understated portrayal of Liz, exuding sympathy and horror in equal measures. Faber is utterly credible. Rupert Wickham who plays Peter, distracted and blind to his family’s failings, is a menacing presence on the Finborough stage.

As Anahera, Acushia-Tara Kupe brings a youthful if clumsy optimism to her character, who soon is treated like another child. Kupe gives a memorable performance, and her presence on stage, too, is ominous. Although on stage little, Jessica O’Toole as daughter Imogen and Paul Waggott as a grown-up Harry give great support ensuring that the ensemble is a strong one.

The set, slickly designed by Emily Bestow, and the atmospheric music by Kate Marlais reconfigure the Finborough’s small space, and with seating on three sides, the audience is plunged right into the heart of this domestic drama where private acts become issues of public concern. We are so close we are almost complicit.

Anahera is one of the best plays of the year so far, and we can only hope that any new work from writer Emma Kinane makes it way here from New Zealand. This is too good to miss.


Runs until 28 September 2019 | Image: Ali Wright 

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