If you've spent the past year gnashing your teeth in frustration at the difficulty of getting tickets for the brilliant run of shows the tiny Royal Court Upstairs has hosted in 2012, gear up for some serious schadenfreude. 'Hero', EV Crowe's follow-up to her 2010 hit 'Kin', mostly sold out before the first preview. And it is not good.
Lacking a clear centre, it follows the interactions of four emotionally stunted protagonists: Danny (Liam Garrigan), a gay, self-righteous teacher with dead eyes and a penchant for unbelievably long speeches; Joe (Tim Steed), his dull husband; their friend Jamie (Daniel Mays), a fellow teacher who appears to be a lunatic; and Lisa (Susannah Wise), Jamie's wife, a woman so bereft of empathy that her response to her husband getting beaten to a bloody pulp is to accuse him of stressing her out.
There are tantalising hints at several decent plays in 'Hero', but the incoherent whole makes less emotional sense than Michael Jackson's marriages. Sometimes it is quite funny. Sometimes it is hideously earnest. Danny raves about how enlightened the youth of today are and doesn't seem put out when a hate mob turns up on his doorstep five minutes later. Prodigious fuck-up Jamie seems to be the creation of somebody who has never met another human being. Not a whole lot is achieved.
Jeremy Herrin's workmanlike production could have flattered the text more. But the cast are watchable enough; and in the case of mercurial, paranoid Jamie, Mays pushes the character so far as to at least endow him with a certain demented charisma. Not a total car crash, but a limp end to the Royal Court Upstairs' annus mirabilis.