Stags – Network Theatre, London

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Writer: Cameron Corcoran

Director: Naomi Wirthner

And so theatre returns, and one of the first to open its doors is the Network Theatre hidden under Waterloo’s railway station. The walk there, through a dank, dark tunnel, is not the cheeriest of pleasures, but neither is Stags, Cameron Corcoran’s new show. This story of a homecoming lag is equally gloomy, and plays without a glimmer of sunlight.

Teacher Tony has heard that his brother has been released from prison, but when he returns to the family home, it appears that another tragedy has struck. The house has been trashed, and his father slumps lifeless in the armchair. In retrospect, Tony’s reaction is surprising, as later we come to realise that there is no love lost between them.

Of course, Da isn’t dead. Just sleeping off a hangover, perhaps, as the night before he threw a party for Conn’s release. Or perhaps, he’s sleeping off old age; he’s half-blind, and a walking stick lies at his feet. Da is full of hate. For Tony, who he hardly sees. For his wife, who left him. For himself, ‘geriatric-fied’.

With this initial focus on father and son, it’s quite a surprise when Conn walks in, a free man but hardly reformed. But at this point, Da falls asleep again, and therefore the play remains a two-hander, this time between Tony and his older brother. Because the three characters never interact with each other Corcoran’s script and Naomi Wirthner’s direction hints that there might be ghosts on the stage.

This haunting quality reappears in the acting, which is slow and purposeful. With so much at the stake between the two brothers, this deliberateness seems an odd stance to take, and rather than produce any menace, it only serves to distance the viewer, and add ten minutes or so to what is essentially a 45-minute play. And when, at the end, this firmness is needed, Wirthner decides instead to let the audience guess the outcome.

Tim Molyneux is excellent as Da, raging from his armchair, cast in a sickly light. As Tony, Blake Kubena is effective in portraying a man who can’t quite break away from familial ties, but the way he caresses his father’s face or strokes his hand is at odds with the rest of his manner. James Finnegan is a slow-witted Conn, perhaps too slow to be entirely believable, but verisimilitude is not what Corcoran and Wirthner appear to have in mind. There are echoes here of Harold Pinter and Simon Stephens

It’s good to be back, and in the company of these three men, it’s a stark reminder that theatre is as unyielding as it is cathartic. But In order to be both these things Stags needs a little more light, a little more cheer.

Runs until 22 May 2021

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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