Clive Judd’s fascinating debut play HERE won the 2022 Papatango New Writing Prize from a record 1,553 submissions. It’s now receiving its premiere at Southwark Playhouse.
There is a mysterious simplicity and haunting presence that pervades this play
There is a mysterious simplicity and haunting presence that pervades this play. “There’s somethin’ about this house. Somethin’ here. Somethin’ in the walls. Its bones. Like DNA.”
The mood is set by the inspired direction of George Turvey, who shields all the action and characters within a white gauze cube, courtesy of Designer Jasmine Swan, through which we must look to see the interactions of four members of a family. The atmosphere is enhanced by effects from Composer and Sound Designer Asaf Zohar and Lighting Designer Bethany Gupwell. We are clearly present as observers, detached from their caged world, but able to gain insights about them through their conversations and interactions. Their lives have been like this for years and will continue in a similar vein for years to come. Very little that transpires is likely to change them; they have been trapped for too long and now they are just picking up more baggage. Don’t expect anything transformative or a grand twist that will change the course of events; it’s mostly more of the same, because that is how their lives are; though there is a last-minute revelation at the end of the 150 mins (including an interval).
Judd states that the play is set ‘in a small kitchen, in a small house, in a small town, on the edge of a small city, in the West Midlands’. Are you feeling the claustrophobia? The location is confirmed with Sam Baker-Jones's opening lines. Raised in Stourbridge, he initiates the rare joy of hearing a play performed in London spoken in the often maligned accents of the Birmingham region, with the rest of the cast following in suit. He makes Matt a likeable, witty and amusing. He’s twenty-five; a young man with stories to tell, situations to relate and a whole other side of mystery. Forever mourning the loss of his grandfather, he believes the man’s spirit lives on in the house and that he can capture his sounds through recording the air around him. This enable him to create some captivatingly eerie and weird moments. Although he has film and television credits, this his professional stage debut, which is hard to believe given the remarkable quality of his performance.
This study of individuals and their interactions continues with the entrance of his cousin Jess aged twenty-three. Hannah Millward embodies the pain and anger of a tormented lost soul searching for meaning and someone in life. Has she found it in the casual relationship wth a women ten years older than herself? Seemingly not. Is she capable of any sort of relationship that is not argumentative and unfulfiling? Unlikely, given the way she fails to get on with her parents. Not that they are easy. Lucy Benjamin as Monica puts on some fabulous rants, tirades and outbursts, mostly aimed at Jess and in particular the women she hangs around with. But beneath the outward show, Benjamin reveals a damaged woman harbouring secrets from the past that pain her, the realities of which keeps to herself as she takes consolation in bottles of wine. She displays a powerhouse of emotional turmoil. Meanwhile, Mark Frost, as her husband Jeff, displays a man who remains subdued for the most part, listening to the exchanges but trying to keep his distance, immersing himself in his hobby and giving an air of introspection and inner torment which his affiliation to the church seems not to have absolved. His demon is revealed but shows no signs of going away.
Four accomplished actors portray clearly defined characters in HERE and the interactions they present resonate with aspects of family life we have all surely experienced at some time. The play also has a very special sense of the Midlands about it. I grew up there and I could feel it. There’s something about the Midlands.