Philip Correia’s Hyem is a haven for those who don’t belong, pre-judged by their inability to fit in. Mick (Patrick Driver) is one such individual, ostracised by his community because of the abnormal household he keeps. His house is a safe space for the children whose parents forgot, the ones who play up at school and don’t seem to be able to conform to societal norms – neither do Mick or partner Sylv (Charlie Hardwick). Given the events of the last few years, Correia plays with the prejudice of paedophilia and throws a light on the expectation of adults to befriend only adults, kids only kids. But Hyem never quite sinks its teeth deep enough into the issues, veering instead into a pleasant sitcom.
The opening to the production is sharp and plain, quick exchanges between new addition Dummey (Ryan Nolan) and the rest of the motley crew. Nolan draws strength from his aberrant shyness, an unspoken teenage boy that lets fists fly before speaking up for himself. There’s an endearing paternal relationship instantly established with Mick (Driver), which Jonny Kelly’s direction cleverly emphasises by some pleasant comedic pauses and easy-going patter. Aloof Shelley (Sarah Balfour) and young romantic Laura (Aimee Kelly) add light-hearted humour to the teenage conversations, contrasted well by the anger inherent in equivalent exchanges between Mick and lodger Dean (Joe Blakemore). Everything is set up to rub along nicely.
Then the tinge of something more sinister starts to creep in. Correia and Kelly don’t ever draw focus to the threatening letter, smashed window or the teenage drinking that Mick allows under his roof – they are allowed to sit in the background as ingenious details and feed into a growing sense of unrest from the community. Jasmine Swan’s cosy set design reflects the protective atmosphere inside the house, shielding the family from the pressures of the outside world. These are all channelled through Dean (Blakemore), who grows more aggressive but fails to convey the play’s threatening backdrop with enough conviction. Blakemore needs to make more of the sudden outbursts that threaten to break down the safety of Mick’s constructed cocoon.
Hyem never quite reaches the destination it inadvertently hints at – Correia’s writing meanders for too long and lacks drive towards a final outcome. There are themes of abandonment and loneliness in Mick’s past that need further emphasis to deliver the desired impact in the final minutes of the show. Sylv (Hardwick) finally lashes out with vitriol and explosive energy, but even this isn’t enough to make up for a stale middle portion of this production. Hyem is too muted, it tries to cover too much and stretches itself too thin. The strength is in the comedy, which Correia writes with affable ease.
Director: Jonny Kelly
Producer: Emma Murton
Writer: Philip Correia
Design: Jasmine Swan; Peter Harrison (lighting); Richard Bell (sound)
Cast: Charlie Hardwick; Patrick Driver; Aimee Kelly; Ryan Nolan; Sarah Balfour; Joe Blakemore
Image courtesy of Nick Rutter
Hyem plays Theatre503 until 30 September 2017. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the website.