Writer: Clive Judd
Director: George Turvey
The winner of this year’s Papatango New Writing Prize, Here by debutant Clive Judd, paints a portrait of a family splintered by a recent death. When Matt returns unannounced to his aunt’s house, memories are reawakened and old wounds opened. Combining kitchen sink realness with theatrical magic, Here is full of humour and heart, showcasing clear talent, both onstage and off.
Taking place all within the kitchen of a small family house, the drama is compact and confined. The room is staged in a cube of white gauze, which is lit from within, projecting the performers in a hazy glow. It feels almost like watching a film or a painting brought to life rather than a live performance. Whilst the barrier of the material screens has the potential to block the usual intimacy of the theatre setting (presumably, the actors couldn’t see the audience at all), it gives the onstage room a ghostly aura, forming a glowing liminal presence that it otherwise wouldn’t have. It’s a rather neat way of enclosing and shaping the eponymous “here” as an actual solid space.
Being as it is, focused on this one room with just four characters, the play itself finds its action in the dialogue between them, the revelations that arise, the friction that erupts. Over the course of the play, we see shifting permutations of the four characters, each producing different dynamics and conversations. These shifts highlight a great deal of writing talent. Judd has made a writerly virtue of acknowledging the fact that we all act differently around different people.
The dialogue writing is deft, bouncing between the characters with humorous believability. There’s great attention to detail with the repetitions, unfinished sentences and awkward silences of real-life conversations. The evocation of a normal evening at home is achieved with aching detail. A scene where boisterous Aunt Monica (Lucy Benjamin) and her meek partner Jeff (Mark Frost) bring in the shopping from the car, the items bagged in reused supermarket carriers, feels acutely real. As do the nervy observations of Matt (Sam Baker-Jones) as he makes conversation with his moody cousin Jess (Hannah Millward). The vulnerable Matt is the most loveable character, a cheerful presence in what reveals itself to be a rather volatile domestic environment. Baker-Jones brings a quiet depth to the character, a tentative outsider, polite and jovial but hiding perhaps the most pain of them all.
After a very naturalistic and low-key beginning to the play, the fractures in the relationships begin to explode into the kind of confrontation that gets avoided in the usual day-to-day routine. Family absences are at the heart of the tension. They are all still processing the death two years ago of Monica’s father, who used to live in the house where they are now gathered; and the estrangement of Matt’s mother (Monica’s sister) is a source of unresolved regret. The absent parties loom like ghosts. The summoning of these ghosts is made more than just figurative as Matt seeks to capture hidden presences via audio recordings, leading the play into slightly questionable territory.
As emotions rise, there are moments that feel over-dramatized and stylised. Judd clearly has great ambition and has attempted something here that brings together the working-class environment of a family home in the Midlands with a slightly more classical dramatic touch. When the drama begins to break out from the realism of the everyday however it can feel slightly jarring and doesn’t quite hit the target. There’s a sense that the playwright felt he needed to escape the mundanity of the domestic environment to express a higher meaning, whereas he had already demonstrated its inherent depth through the strength of the play’s earlier moments.
Runs until 3 December 2022