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Hir review at Bush Theatre, London – ‘absurd and bleak’

Arthur Darvilll and Ashley McGuire in Hir at the Bush Theatre, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton Arthur Darvilll and Ashley McGuire in Hir at the Bush Theatre, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton

US marine Isaac returns from Iraq to find his home in disarray. His father has suffered a debilitating stroke and his sister is transitioning into his brother.

New York playwright and performance artist Taylor Mac’s Hir is a play of absurdity, anarchy and anger. While Mac has some sly fun at the acronyms and pronouns of the new gender terrain – ‘hir’, ‘ze’ and so forth – the play’s targets are the systems and cultures of the American patriarchy, the machine that turns men into bullies and beasts.

Isaac’s mother Paige delights in her husband’s newly enfeebled condition because in his prime he was a brute and an abuser. Isaac escaped his volatile home-life by joining the military and Isaac’s brother Max, the play seems to be saying, may also be engaged, in part, in an act of escape.

Ben Stones’ set resembles the other Conner family home from the sitcom Roseanne, only with the disorder ramped up. The kitchen is riddled with stickers and fridge magnets, like a disease, and clothing colonises the floor.

The cast sinks its teeth into the material. Ashley McGuire is typically superb as the unnervingly buoyant Paige, intent on exploding her home and humiliating her broken husband, Arnold, compellingly played by Andy Williams. Griffyn Gilligan is brattish and arrogant as Max but also vulnerable. Arthur Darvill, head shorn, face taut and drawn, is mainly required to look distressed and bewildered (and spew – he voms a lot), which he does very well.

But the darker the play becomes – and it goes to some pretty bleak and brutal places as Mac reveals more of the person Arnold was and is – the less sure-footed Nadia Fall’s production feels. It doesn’t quite pin down the emotional carnage of the later scenes.

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Taylor Mac’s attack on the American patriarchy is absurd, bleak and somewhat tangled