Directed by Anthea Williams
Belvoir St Theatre
5 Belvoir Street, Surry Hills
Season: 12 August – 10 September
Hir: a gender neutral pronoun, a sort of cross between ‘her’ and ‘him’. This transformation of language parallels not only a transformation of gender identification, but also a socio-political shift in the play. There is a progressive undercurrent that wants to move the world into a new era, but hasn’t quite worked out what to do with the rulers of the old. Anthea Williams’ production, written by Taylor Mac, is a joyful, yet challenging engagement with contemporary society and its movements as we experience them, underlining a need for progressive action without claiming that sunlight shines out of the butts of progressive left-wingers. This production really makes you question, and left me with a sense of urgency to probe my personal beliefs about the world, as I know it.
Michael Hankin has created a cacophonous set and costume design that is both aesthetically and metaphorically gratifying. Chaotic and brightly coloured, when the curtain drops revealing the design in the first instance of the play, we see a disregard of the status quo in favour of disarray – denounce the old order and traditions we are familiar with, and work out something that better serves us as a people. And while this new sort of order is in a bit of a shambles, we might still have to work out how it will work out.
Michael Whalley plays Isaac, a returning soldier from war who is affected by PTSD. When he comes home, everything has changed. His mother Paige, played by Helen Thomson has given up on housework and has decided to homeschool Max. Max, played by trans actor Kurt Pimblett, was born as Isaac’s sister, and while Isaac was at war, transitioned to become male. He takes hormones and dreams of moving to a queer commune. Meanwhile, Isaac’s once stoic and patriarchal father, played by Greg Stone, has had a stroke, and is kept at home by Paige in a vegetative state. She insists on putting him in dresses and make up, seemingly to humiliate him. It eventually becomes apparent her behaviour is in reaction to his previous domestic abuse of her and the children.
Williams has gathered together an excellent cast and weathers the script dynamics with agility, switching rapidly between riotous humour and play, and revealing the dark and violent subsisting undertones. The production is abundantly engaging, fascinating and entertaining, and manages to pull off this balance with remarkable flair. Each character is emblematic of a certain stratum of society and their transformational phase. Greg Stone gives a compelling performance speaking few words for a large section of the play, and yet garnering our sympathy. This is subverted once his violence and lack of remorse is evident. It is chilling when we realise that there are really no true ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’. Even Paige and Max who were subject to repeated abuse at the hands of various individuals are shown to be capable of violence and malice. I found it fascinating to note the engagement with the capacity for the progressive left to silence any form of debate or disagreement and the evidence that this silencing doesn’t seem to achieve much, except eventually rile up its contesters. Thomson is tireless in her performance, firing up laugh after laugh, she’s riveting to watch. Whalley expertly arouses audience compassion as a relatable figure being exposed to these new given circumstances at the same pace as the audience. Yet this takes a turn when he begins to fight for the very values and beliefs that have damaged him in the first place.
Hir made me laugh and think and pushed me to ask questions like, what even is gender anyway? How is it used as a weapon? What kind of people do we want to be? And what do we think women and men should be like? Further, it spoke into my understanding of shifting world paradigms occurring at this moment, and the gamut of ways we can respond and propel this change even more. Hir is an important play that dares to look at our society from a different angle, illuminating so much about this time and our character. I recommend you check it out.