Herons – the story of a 14 year old kid who is confronted repeatedly by a young gang – continues the Lyric’s admirable tradition of exploring not just the grand in theatre, but also the small-scale, the sparse and the unattractive.
The play, by Simon Stephens, is both brash and skilfully woven. The predominately young cast are more than convincing – in the play’s rougher moments they evoke real empathy in their performances – and the story is well told. There are some issues with clarity of direction – in scene changes in particular – but these do not take away from the overall affecting whole.
A deliberately aggressive opening tirade of swearing sets the tone well. If initially over-done, the language and its delivery settle by the second scene – or perhaps it is a case of acclimatising to it as an audience member. Either way, the play does not pull any punches in its attempts to portray dysfunctional lower-class urban life.
But the play is more than just deliberately hostile. The entire play takes place around a fishing spot by a local river. Despite this lack of variety in setting, Herons conveys the back-story of three families, without lecturing or clichéd monologues. If one character is slightly off in this respect, it is the female lead, Adele, played by Siobhan Kelly. Kelly is believable and consistent in her character – she does as fine a job as one could expect – but the character is a fairly one-dimensional ‘everything that can go wrong’ complement to the male lead. The character works, but she is more obviously a plot device than the others (aside from perhaps the dim/eloquent duo who follow the gang-leader around). Nevertheless, these characters, and the manner by which the plot develops, are for the majority, artfully done. Stephens has written many, many plays, and his experience and knowledge of the craft is evident throughout.
As for the acting – it was by and large brilliant. The male lead, Domhnall Herdman, was understated and controlled in his performance – he handled the role impressively. James Doran, as Domhnall’s father, produced yet another strong performance – he has performed at the Lyric many times, and he is consistently convincing in his roles. Siobhan Kelly, as mentioned, performed her role with clear control – and on top of that she has a real presence of stage. The other male lead, John Travers, has the hardest role to play. His character, Scott, is the gang-leader and a young kid who suffers from the older brother syndrome that dictates many a kid’s younger years. Travers was as confident and uncompromising as he needed to be – he fills the role very well indeed.
The only slight fault in the play, as mentioned above, was in certain aspects of direction. The only way the play indicated that a day had passed, for instance, was a brief lowering and raising of the lights – but as the stage was sparse, and the setting the same throughout – and the characters didn’t dress, or even move from the place they were siting – it was only upon a character making brief reference to the passing of the day that it became apparent that the lights going down signified a change in day as well as scene. This was about 15 minutes in. Further, at one point, an actor who wasn’t in a particular scene walked through the middle of the stage, picked up a prop (fishing rod), and walked off the other side. However, presumably this was due to a mistake by one of the cast, rather than a directorial choice – because it was distracting if nothing else.
Yet again the Lyric has shown itself to be amongst the finest purveyors of drama in Belfast. This production of Herons was impressive – not because of the age, or the inexperience of some of the performers – but purely on its own terms. The play by any cast is well worth checking out. The run has ended in the Lyric, but keep an eye out for future PintSized productions; by this measure they are a company well worth following.
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