Theatre Review: The Humans Presents A Familiar Dread

The Humans, Hampstead Theatre ★★★☆☆

By Matthew Holder Last edited 23 months ago

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Theatre Review: The Humans Presents A Familiar Dread The Humans, Hampstead Theatre 3
Photo: Marc Brenner

In this age of AI, what makes us 'human' is an extremely contemporary question and in The Humans, Stephen Karam argues that it's a sense of dread that defines our species.

It's a theme common to genres like horror and mystery — this transfer of a Broadway production alludes to that by using references from Polanski and David Lynch, with thumps and objects interjecting the tensions played out before us.

Karam combines this with the familiar family reunion. The Blake family are celebrating Thanksgiving and parents, sister and grandmother descend upon youngest daughter Brigid (Sarah Steele) and her boyfriend (Arian Moayed) in their new New York basement flat. The staging is very effective with the two levels presented as a box-like frame, which offers lots of opportunities for over-hearing and dual-action.

The play has a great energy and snatches at topics of class and the economy for blue-collar 'middle' Americans. The father is a school janitor, the boyfriend has a trust fund, grandmother has dementia and the older sister surgical trauma — but it's done with humour and even tragic circumstances are glossed. A smart pace and the commitment of all the performances ensures a good evening.

However, the reveal — and what presumably lies behind much of the unease in the play — happens late and little is made of it. In the end the play is the father's and his need is quietly shown, but not given the dramatic effect it deserves to take it to the next level.

The Humans, Hampstead Theatre, Eton Avenue, London, NW3 3EU, £10-£40. Until 13 October

Last Updated 14 September 2018