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Review: Here (Southwark Playhouse)

Review by Daz Gale


When a show wins writing awards before it’s even pitched up in London, you automatically go in with a high level of expectation. That’s perhaps the double edged sword that Here has to overcome. After winning the 2022 Papatango New Writing prize, Here arrives at Southwark Playhouse for a limited season. But could it live up to the high expectation?


Here is set into a small family home where four family members reunite. Matt (Sam Baker-Jones) returns to a house he hasn’t visited in years to see his cousin Jess (Hannah Millward), her mother Monica (Lucy Benjamin) and Monica’s husband Jeff (Mark Frost). What starts as a fairly comedic family reunion turns darker with old fractures returning to the light as well as Matt’s ulterior motive for visiting the property gives the story an unexpected twist.



For something that has won a prize for writing, you would expect an exemplary level and that is what Here boasts… most of the time anyway. The writing by Clive Judd is effortless, particularly in the opening scene between the two cousins Matt and Jess. What Here does really well is character exposition and development with key characteristics from all four explored and fleshed out in great detail. The writing is also regularly comedic with some witty observations, recurring jokes based on character traits (mainly at the expense of Matt) and some brilliant one-liners in a show whose first act is full of moment of laughter, though these are few and far between as Here progresses.


Where the writing is more inconsistent is in the development of the plot itself. Perhaps down in part to its bold approach to mix genres from comedy to thriller to ghost story, several key plot points don’t quite land in the way they are written, feeling vague, confusing and, on occasion, hard to follow. The shows climax asks more questions than it answers and ends too suddenly, with a further few minutes of resolution would do wonders to close the stories of four wonderful characters we have grown to love and have no idea what happens to them. That may well have been the intent of the writing, but it was all too unsatisfying.



The set design from Jasmine Swan sees a beautifully intricate replication of an old kitchen, incredibly detailed and allowing plenty of props for the cast to use – as well as lead to some great visual gags. A gorgeous detail sees the back lit up to reveal an exterior garden, increasing the scope of the relatively small space. However, there is one undeniable flaw in the set design and that is the thin fabric that surrounds every side of the kitchen. With an audience surrounding three sides of the stage, every audience member has to watch the entire play through what is essentially a curtain. Not only does this design make it hard to see for anyone unfortunate enough to be in line with a corner of the set but it also makes the whole thing a bit blurry, much harder to concentrate on the action and doesn’t allow us to see the expressions on the actors faces. This would have led to a lot more intimacy, and as such, makes the whole piece so much harder to connect to. Your eyes never truly adjust to this either in a sadly flawed set design that lets the show down somewhat.


A strong element to Here is in the acting itself with four truly remarkable actors bringing their fleshed out and versatile characters out to their full potential. Sam Baker-Jones is brilliantly comic as the over-excitable Matt whose inability to hold a substantial conversation allows for some stunning development as we learn more about him. As Jess, Hannah Millward has to take the back seat for most of the action, disappearing for a large chunk of the story altogether. However, she makes the most of her time on stage with an undeniable presence, even when her character isn’t speaking,



Lucy Benjamin is a standout as Jess’ mother Monica. Initially hard-natured and always one word away from an argument, Lucy’s incomparable acting ability gives an audience an instant understanding and connection to the character, who beautifully reveals more sides to her as the play progresses. The cast is completed by Mark Frost who is completely commanding in a mostly quietly calm performance. Though flawed in his actions, his loving interactions with his three family members have the most heart of the story, and had me longing to learn more about him.


Fantastic direction from George Turvey makes the best use of the intricate set and fully taps into the characters identities with fantastic attention to detail. Sound plays an important part of Here with design from Asaf Zohar incredibly atmospheric and more relatable to the story than you initially realise. Bethany Gupwell’s lighting does the best it can, given the nature of the set (including one standout moment where the garden is revealed), however this never gets the effect it deserves due to the restricted viewing nature of the fabric surrounding the set.



Here is an overall enjoyable watch, albeit a slightly inconsistent one. It is full of moments of brilliance, with some truly great writing and characters you find yourself completely invested in. However, its downfall is in its inconsistent nature with extreme variances in tone regularly jarring in nature, and a problematic set design that can’t help but take the shine off what is a show with huge potential. Perhaps it’s not quite where it needs to be yet, but with a few small tweaks, Here really could be something special.


★★★


Photos by The Other Richard


Here plays at Southwark Playhouse until December 3rd. Tickets from https://www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/

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