Review: Herons Wades Into Teenage Troubles

Herons, Lyric Hammersmith ★★★☆☆

Neil Dowden
By Neil Dowden Last edited 34 months ago
Review: Herons Wades Into Teenage Troubles Herons, Lyric Hammersmith 3
Ed Gaughan as Dad and Max Gill as Billy in Herons. Photo by Tristram Kenton

This revival of Simon Stephens’ shortish, third play from 2001 reveals both the cruelty and the tenderness of teenage life. Herons may not pack the power of his later, explosive exploration of adolescent angst, alienation and aggression, Punk Rock, but it features the same disconcerting mixture of violence and vulnerability. And there are flashes of lyrical beauty amidst the brute force of the urban jungle where the drama unfolds.

In east London, 14 year old Billy is taunted by school bully Scott who blames Billy’s father for informing the police that he witnessed Scott’s elder brother drowning a schoolgirl in the River Lea. Billy left his alcoholic mother to go and live with his unemployed father, with whom he bonds while they are fishing, but he’s scared that they will suffer reprisals. At school he finds an unlikely ally in the form of Scott’s enforced girlfriend Adele, as he determines on a desperate act of counter-revenge.

Stephens strongly shows how with teenage bullying the perpetrator can also be a victim in their own way, while a victim can turn into a perpetrator, as predator and prey exchange roles. Sean Holmes’s subtle production makes us question our allegiances in a situation where young people have to grow up too quickly as they become entangled in an adult conflict, though there could be a bit more menace.

Hyemi Shin’s striking design dominates the show, with the stage flooded in a pool of water which the actors kick up into the front rows at times of dramatic intensity, presumably reflecting the way the characters are immersed in their own misery, with the flood barriers threatening to break at the play’s critical moment. However, Lucy Ockenden’s video of monkeys engaged in ritualistic behavior in their own natural habitat seems an over-emphatic parallel to how animal instincts and primal emotions take over the teenagers.

The mainly very young cast acquit themselves well, two making their professional debut. Max Gill gives Billy a maturity beyond his years as he tries to take events into his own hands, while Billy Matthews reveals the pain behind Scott’s bluster and Sophia Decaro is the tough but sensitive Adele. Ed Gaughan plays Billy’s gruff but caring Dad, and Sophie Stone his shadowy, troubled Mum — estranged, dysfunctional parents grappling with their own problems in a harsh environment.

Herons is on at Lyric Hammersmith until 13 February. Tickets £15—£35. Londonist saw this production on a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 27 January 2016