Review: How far can you take grumpiness in The Dark Earth and the Light Sky?
Straight review: The stars allign to produce one of my favourite plays of the year

Review: The frustrating and charming Hero

510x340.fitandcropWalking onto the set of Hero - you have to, to get to your seat - brought a flood of memories back. Not good memories because it is designed to look like a school gym, all light wooden floors, tape marking the area of play and bright lighting.

The gym set is, however, more symbolic than real.  It serves merely as a reminder that play is about two school teachers with the action taking place around a second set in the middle consisting of kitchen table and chairs and an island block with sink, kettle and other culinary objects. In fact you quickly forget the gym.

The story starts with Jamie (Daniel Mays) who is married to Lisa (Susannah Wise), visiting colleague Danny (Liam Garrigan) who is married to Joe (Tim Steed). Jamie is seeking reassurance from Danny that he handled correctly a situation at school in which a seven-year-old called him gay. The problem is he over-reacted but not to hurt his feelings Danny lies.

It isn't a one off incident though. Jamie is soon receiving homophobic hate mail from local teenagers and then worse. You'd feel sorry for him if he wasn't a bit of a twit, well a lot of a twit really.

In a play that wasn't about gay issues he'd just be the idiotic friend trying to be cool and hip but always saying the wrong thing. But Hero is about gay issues and Jamie's increasingly outlandish behaviour and thoughtless comments hint that he is trying, not very successfully, to hide one of two things.

While Danny is calm and collected Jamie  grows increasingly anxious, erratic and boorish and is  obviously affronted by the mistaken gay label. He is either far less accepting of homosexuality than his friendship with the gay couple would imply or he is himself gay and in denial or is at least insecure about his own sexuality.

But the problem for me with Hero, well there are a couple, is that I don't think it adequately explores either option. Mays' Jamie feels a little over played to the point where he just gets irritating. It was as much as I could do to stop myself saying outloud 'for goodness sake someone just give him a slap and tell him to calm down'.

Jamie's over reaction to the entire situation is exaggerated by the fact that Danny's back story reveals a genuinely tragic tale of bullying and yet he has come through it through it so well-adjusted and like-able.

As a result, and my second problem, is that I kept waiting for a revelation, it felt like it was working up to something. Hand on heart, I kept waiting for Jamie to come out but maybe that was just my interpretation.  Without such drama and without getting really under the skin of what was going on Hero is good enough play but not a great play.

It feels like it is still a work in progress, scratching the surface of some interesting issues. There is a secondary theme of gay adoption. Danny and Joe have a discussion as to how they should bring up their child should they get approved and I'd have like a bit more on that topic.

But there are some wonderful moments too - Danny's opening speech about what led him to leave his home city of Sheffield and when he tells Joe about an game he devised to teach the kids about inclusion.

Danny is very much the hero of the title and Galligan the hero of the piece in my book. His Danny is full of gentle, winning charm and intellect you could easily understand how he could sensibly talk people around even in hostile situations. In fact I missed him when he wasn't on stage.

Hero is certainly a promising piece but not without its frustrations it runs at the Royal Court Upstairs until December 22. Tickets for all performances are sold out except those on Mondays where tickets are £10 and sold on the day from 9am. It's worth a tenner to see.

You can read @polyg's views over on her blog


Daniel Mays provides a couple of second degree connections he was in Atonement (Romola Garai - The Hour) and Made In Dagenham (Andrea Riseborough - The Pride)