Theatre Review - The Herd

Carol (Amanda Root) has organised a family get-together for her son’s twenty-first birthday party. As ever, he is the last to arrive. The sad truth is that Andy is severely disabled, with the mental age of ten months, and is in care. Carol arranges for him to come home every birthday. Today, her parents Patricia (Anne Calder-Marshall) and Brian (Kenneth Cranham), her daughter Claire (Louise Brealey) and Claire’s boyfriend Mark (Adrian Bower) have been invited to join the celebration.

As they wait for Andy’s arrival, there’s plenty of entertaining family banter and a very funny interlude when Patricia discovers that Mark is a performance poet. But noone has counted on Andy’s father Ian (Adrian Rawlin) turning up unannounced. Unable to cope with bringing up a disabled son, Ian left his twenty-year marriage and hasn’t seen Andy for the past five years.

Ian’s arrival throws the family into a quandary – his daughter hurt and angry, Patricia slyly malevolent – but Carol decides he can stay in case Andy shows a flicker of recognition. Ian is unexpectedly given the opportunity to offer a defence for his past actions. In doing so, he reveals Carol’s own limitations, and the barriers she imposed when taking on the mantle of chief carer, suggesting that his desertion was not a simple act of cowardice.

THE HERD proves a remarkably assured writing debut from actor Rory Kinnear (currently treading the boards as Iago in the National’s production of OTHELLO). Kinnear demonstrates an excellent grasp of what makes good drama and all his characters are finely drawn and sympathetic. The dialogue is perfectly pitched and each actor is given a set piece in which to shine. Kinnear is well served by a stellar cast who give it their all. There’s drama, comedy and pathos in equal measure and Howard Davies directs with his usual panache. The end result surely deserves a West End transfer.

Running at the Bush Theatre until  26 October