Let me preface by saying that
It never really hit its stride.
The play’s premise is simple, but topical: it asks what drives youth towards violent organisations, how extreme nationalism can be justified, and what effect prioritising the state over the individual has. The script, however, was unsubtle in managing these problems. The well-theorised dialectic of ‘other’ against ‘self’ was played out through a number of confrontations: teacher vs. student, lover vs. lover, voicing pro- and anti-war sentiments by way of these dialogues. But none of them ever really got going: ‘we only kill the bad men’, insisted the teacher, to which the resistant student replied, ‘but what if we’re the bad men?!’ It’s not a revelation to recognise that the polarities of good and evil are untenable, particularly in any war-torn state. The indoctrination and brainwashing of younger generations was well suggested, by having the same student who had so fervently question his teacher later become the very ‘bad man’ and blood-stained soldier of whom he had been so wary. It was an effective dramatic use of circles and repetition but, again, it wasn’t especially nuanced or original.
The set was interesting and adaptable, fitting the minimalistic aesthetic of the wider production, and was well used to create the different environments of the play. Similarly, the use of stones to mark graves was an inspired touch in its effective simplicity. But the relationships played out within those environments were under-developed and, in some cases, completely unbelievable, as the performers had no connection or chemistry to make me really invest in their characters’ lives. Some performances were pantomime-like in their tone, designed more to elicit laughter from the watching production team than the audience, and therefore self-indulgent and discordant in a play whose subject matter was so solemn. Connections between characters would appear from nowhere – a gay kiss suddenly manifested, never to be seen again, an exhibition of queer baiting that, as an openly bi-woman with a girlfriend, makes my skin crawl. Fights between characters were played out in one monotonous tone; there is nothing more frustrating than watching actors think that conveying fury entails shouting at one another. It’s just not necessarily true to how people fight in real life. Naturalism was also sacrificed in physical movements, as performers moved across the stage because they had been directed to do so, without any character motivation or momentum.
Overall Hero is a play that could have been a nuanced exploration of growing up amidst violent nationalism and that could have humanised individuals and relationships, thus demonstrating the devastation wreaked by war and its prioritising of the state, but it never really hit its stride.