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  • Theatre, Comedy
Hir, Park Theatre, 2024
Photo: Pamela Raith

Time Out says

Felicity Huffman relaunches her career in a revival of this provocative curio from Taylor Mac

Cult American artist Taylor Mac’s play ‘Hir’ received its UK premiere in 2017, opening at the Bush Theatre to mixed reviews. 

Seven years isn’t exactly no time at all. But it’s a swift revival for a show that was hardly a resounding success.

So what’s prompted it? 

One explanation is that ‘Hir’ was simply ahead of its time. Sure, people knew what a pronoun was in the mid-’10s. But Mac’s dark satire about a nuclear American family that throws off the shackles of the patriarchy and adopts the pronouns ‘hir’ and ‘ze’ feels more overtly provocative now, when the act of defining one’s own gender has become a bête noire of mainstream conservatism. 

Another explanation is that it’s because Felicity Huffman wanted to do it. The screen career of the Oscar nominee and erstwhile desperate housewife famously went off the rails in 2019 after a very American scandal that involved her paying a stranger to take her daughter’s A-Level equivalents for her. Huffman was arrested, went to jail, and hasn’t worked a lot since. But London is the perfect place to opt for a low-key relaunch: the whole affair sounds so weird to the average Brit that I doubt there’s much antipathy towards her.

Anyway, she plays Paige, the mum (mom?) of the family. Following her tyrannical husband Arnold’s stroke, Paige has tried to remake the home as a sort of genderqueer utopia based around her and youngest child Max (Thalía Dudek), who has transitioned, going from ‘she’ to ‘ze’.

Into this steps eldest child Isaac (Steffan Cennydd), who has just returned home after receiving a dishonourable discharge from the US Marines. He is aghast to discover his family home in chaos. ‘We don’t do order’, intones Paige.

Moreover, Arnold (Simon Startin) is now a shadow of his former self, a slow-witted virtual slave to Paige who dresses him in nightgowns and clown makeup, feeds him oestrogen smoothies and orders him to perform humiliating menial tasks.

There’s definitely something compelling about Mac’s vision of patriarchy reclaimed by anarchic queerness. But ‘Hir’ is fundamentally a deeply bitter, cynical play, and in the second half its sense of mischief drains away as it becomes apparent that the seemingly free-spirited Paige is just as controlling and abusive as Arnold ever was. If it even has a moral it’s presumably that any parent can be a disaster regardless of their political beliefs. But once you scratch through the wackiness it’s basically two-and-a-half-hours of parents abusing their largely blameless children.

There’s a nicely anarchic household set from Ceci Calf. Steven Kunis directs competently. Huffman is perfectly good in her role as a free spirit with a deeply sinister side. It’s not exactly a massively rangey part, but it’s certainly a bold choice. Unfortunately, seven years has not simply done that much for the play: ‘Hir’ may feel marginally more timely, but it has nothing at its heart except a nihilistic shrug. 

Andrzej Lukowski
Written by
Andrzej Lukowski


£22.50-£47.50. Runs 2hr 20min
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