“I don’t want us to look…naïve”
EV Crowe’s new play Hero sees her return to the Royal Court to be reunited with director Jeremy Herrin, but in this tale of two male primary school teachers – one gay and one straight – and the messages they convey both in the personal and the public sphere, everyone seems to have overstretched themselves considerably. The impossibly handsome Liam Garrigan plays Danny, in the midst of applying to adopt a child with husband Joe and seemingly unafraid of anything to do with his sexuality. Daniel May’s Jamie however, struggling to conceive with wife Lisa, reacts incredibly badly when one of his pupils calls him gay, setting in train a troubling chain of events and revelations that spiral wildly out of control.
Everywhere, questionable decisions abound. The structure that folds back on itself at the beginning of the second act reveals nothing new in the replaying of the timeline and just muddies the narrative. The incredibly vivid image of the opening monologue is something that is never revisited, suggesting a real missed opportunity. The use of a Julie London record to signify doubts of a character’s sexuality feels as immature a choice as those exposed in the play and never, personally at least, felt justified by the writing itself. And funny lines are peppered throughout the script but appear at the most random of places, keeping the tone of the piece frequently off-kilter and repeatedly sacrificing the opportunity to explore issues with depth.
There’s an intriguing idiosyncrasy at work in Crowe’s writing (just what does she have against Hawaiian pizzas and paella?!) and one which shows promise if she learns to harness it more appropriately. Here, too often it is married with her more conventional characters who are thus pressed into abrupt shifts of mood which just feel forced and counter-intuitive. Daniel Mays resorts to shouting his lines far too often to actually convince us that Jamie’s abrasiveness is an understandable by-product of his closetedness (another curiously unexplored avenue) and though Liam Garrigan’s Danny is initially more appealing, his blinkered certainty soon wears thin. Tim Steed’s excellent Joe ends up having to converse with his husband as if they’ve never discussed anything before; his alleged long-running friendship with Jamie is given little room and thus never convinces; and little is apparent to persuade us that Susannah Wise’s Lisa would ever remain married to Jamie (or indeed marry him in the first place).
And her choice of key dramatic incident also severely rankles. Herrin winds up the production to a highly effective close at the interval, with a heart-racing intensity taking people to the bar. But the way in which we eventually find out how it played out actually made me angry as it is highly unconvincing (given the ferocity of that Act 1 end) and to me, downright irresponsible as I can’t imagine many people who have faced a similar situation would recognise this particular possible resolution. It is perhaps too easy to talk of naïveté with Crowe, but there is a serious issue here. Hero sadly comes off as glib where it tries too hard to be clever, unfocused where it tries to be complex and misguided where it merely glances off the real issues at hand.