Sophia Decaro, Billy Matthews, Max Gill, Moses Adejimi and Ella McLoughlin. Photo by Tristram Kenton
The more Simon Stephens plays I see the more of the poetry I see in them. His most recent, A Song From Far Away, completely disarmed me last Autumn. Herons is a revival of an early work and probably sits more with the likes of Port and Blindsided in tone.
It is a short, pregnant piece where Stephens tells you just enough to let your imagination run wild. The set is part urban canalside with a lockgate and partially submerged playground with a roundabout and one of those spring mounted rocking-horses where the school kids hang out. A screen at the back of the stage loops a wildlife film showing monkeys living in the wild and suggests watering hole.
Scott (Billy Matthews) is the leader of a gang and the school bully. He has a message for Billy (Max Gill) to pass onto his dad (Ed Gaughan) from his brother Ross who is in prison. A message that is blantantly passive aggressive and makes Billy scared. Something happened to a girl at their schoool, something to which they are all directly or indirectly connected, something that haunts the school ground and all their relationships.
But Billy has other problems, family problems. His dad spends his days at the canal and can't get a job. His brother and sister live with his mum and the threat of being taken into care hangs heavy in the air.
Stephens feeds you crumbs of information in the what the kids tease Billy about and the throw away comments made by the adults. Billy bears his soul in his notebook and seems such a wise and yet delicately corruptible soul in an unforgiving world. It is a play that is both bleak and beautiful, grim and hopeful. It is a play that leaves you with plenty of questions, one too many perhaps but I'll forgive it that.
Herons is getting four stars from me and you can catch it at the Lyric Hammersmith until Feb 13. It is 70 minutes long without an interval.
Other original Simon Stephens plays I've seen: