Last week, the Woodley Players staged Rory Kinnear’s The Herd, a funny and profoundly poignant play, dealing with domestic realism and fraught with family tensions. It was directed with pace and panache by Frank Kaye and Kathy Reid, with skilful multi-door staging by Stuart Gentle.
We are introduced into the cosily suburban balloon and bunting adorned family home. Carol, the angst-ridden mother (played with compelling earthiness by the stellar Chris Moran) has arranged a small 21st birthday party for her severely disabled son, Andy, a long-time resident in a care home.
Invited are Andy’s elder sister, Claire (a beautifully understated and sensitive performance by Sarah Pearce) and his grandparents: the cultural Brian (a deliciously acerbic portrayal by Philip Scott) and the glamorous Patricia in polka dots (the wittily fabulous Linda Bostock). There are two ‘surprise’ guests: Claire’s boyfriend Mark, a Lancastrian performance-poet (a delightfully droll performance by Andrew Smith) and Andy’s detested father, Ian (played with moving resoluteness by Marc Reid) who has long since abandoned the family scene and arrives bearing a stripey gift… only to be welcomed by a slammed door.
Kinnear himself had a disabled sister and he explores the theme of a mother’s obsessive and all-consuming love through the character of Carol. We share her anxious exchanges with the inept carer on Ventolin and other vital medical supplies – juxtaposed by hilarious domestic interludes involving cups of tea and Jeye Cloths. Family fissions run throughout, but shared memories can never be entirely eradicated… there is a touching moment when the ‘hateful, loathsome’ father Ian shares Claire’s childhood song What a Peculiar Mongoose with her as she reluctantly warms to him.
There is heartwarming bonding from the company on-stage as they involve us in this funny and moving human tale… we never do get to meet Andy and the final denouement is almost too hard to bear.
This was truly inspirational theatre; thank you so much, the Woodley Players.
‘The Herd’ has now finished its run. The next production at the Woodley Theatre is ‘The Thrill of Love’ from 26 until 30 November.