DramaNorth WestReview

Henceforward – New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-Under-Lyme

Writer/Director: Alan Ayckbourn

Reviewer: Carol Lovatt

Henceforward is a dark, clever and uncompromising story about the interplay between humans and machines. Set in the studio of a deep and artistic man, Jerome, a father, a musician and a tortured soul, it focuses on his quest to win back his estranged daughter from her dominant and caustic mother and the depths of deception to which people will go to in order to meet what might seem an impossible aim.

Jerome, played with tangible emotion and palpable angst by Bill Chapman, desires the return of his sweet and articulate daughter Geain, whom he hasn’t seen for several years. Geain’s formidable mother Corinna, a bank manager oozing power-dressing authority and a fiery determination to get her own way, has deemed that the living arrangements and neighbourhood, where Jerome resides and which is patrolled by marauding girl gangs and is so lawless that even the police don’t visit, has not been the place where her precious little girl should venture. Therefore, Jerome hasn’t seen his child in a very long time and is emotionally damaged and despondent by it. It is his creativity and passion as a composer which is all consuming, that provides a much needed respite to such difficult family circumstances. In many ways, Ayckbourn has touched on a raw nerve with this narrative as it reflects the situation that many fathers find themselves in when a relationship breaks down and a child or children remain living with their mother. The loss and separation causes pain for all parties and it is often a real challenge to come to some amenable arrangement, particularly if agencies are involved such as children’s services. With little Geain becoming a teenager and not being quite so adorable anymore, Corinna is happy for her now to re-connect with her dad and the play centres on Jerome’s attempt to create an illusion of domestic bliss – with a robot, the beautiful Zoe aka NAN 300F! At first, the inclusion of a machine being a key player in a story of love, loss and reconciliation

At first, the inclusion of a machine being a key player in a story of love, loss and reconciliation seems rather incredible to believe and the first half of the play is somewhat challenging in parts with a little too much existential angst but essentially, it is all linked into the gradual build-up of tension and complexity which then seamlessly falls into place in the second half with both riotous and credible results. It is a play which keeps the audience thinking. At the same time, it is funny and poignant with a glimpse to a future where machines in the home will become more dominant and even, as in Japan today; replace certain human interaction with an attractive simplicity, albeit controversial.

Laura Matthews is incredibly engaging as Zoe, manic and vibrant as the budding actress employed as an escort and beautifully automotive as NAN 300F, a role clearly made for her. Jacqueline Hing is suitably scary but with an underlying vulnerability as Corinna, she is a very authoritative actress and a complete joy to watch. Russell Dixon, a stalwart of Ayckbourn plays, is both memorable and entertaining as Mervyn, the jobsworth employee of the children’s services division and he is genuinely funny. Geain is played by a young and beautifully spoken Velvet Hebditch in audio visual mode and by Jessie Hart, as the attitudinal and comical teenage version. With Andy Cryer as Lupus, Jerome’s virtual friend, this is a cohesive cast which is evident on stage as they bring the many elements of the play to a hilarious crescendo.

Runs until 29 October, 2016 | Image: Ian Bartholomew

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