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Hyem (Yem, Hjem, Home) review at Theatre503, London – ‘vivid and warm-hearted’

The cast of Hyem at Theatre503, London. Photo: Nick Rutter The cast of Hyem at Theatre503, London. Photo: Nick Rutter

Philip Correia’s warm-hearted, rough-handed debut play Hyem (Yem, Hjem, Home) looks inside the home of Sylv and Mick, eccentric inhabitants of Northumberland’s deprived Fountain Park estate.

Set in 2003, with the Iraq war looming, Correia’s play is generous and energetic, as bursting with ideas and objects as Sylv and Mick’s front room – a chintzy design from Jasmine Swan. This energy is matched by a pacy production from Jonny Kelly.

Hyem works better as a character study of broken lives that have been brought to the same place for refuge – for something approximating family – than as a piece of political writing. There’s a feast of enjoyably lived-in performances, especially from the women. Sarah Balfour is a particularly bright presence, and Charlie Hardwick, as matriarch Sylv, is something special: dry, battle-weary, and wounded.

Patrick Driver doesn’t bring enough danger to the pivotal role of Mick or cast any real doubt on the darkness of his motives, but it doesn’t hurt the piece’s revelations.

There are first-timer flaws in the writing: at times it teeters into melodrama, too uncertain of itself to be subtle, and it borders on episodic – scenes are short, tension rising almost immediately and then draining away again. This makes it hard for the production to sustain much momentum – though it might make brilliant television. But the vivid portraits of the house’s inhabitants win out in the end; Correia clearly has a gift for creating instantly familiar figures as well as sharp-tongued dialogue.

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Philip Correia's debut play is a funny and fractious, if episodic, portrait of a found family