The Late Henry Moss**** (Southwark Playhouse)

Posted: September 5, 2015 in Theatre

HenryMossWebCircleThis review was originally written for The Public Reviews:

“You’re breathing and you’re yelling” the soon to be late Henry Moss is told to assure him that he is really still alive and, once his two sons have arrived to deal with his corpse, the yelling continues unabated. Sam Shepard’s searing examination of the psyche of the American male was first seen in 2000 and has been performed in London only once before. Set in New Mexico, in a small town many miles from Albuquerque, the unforgiving terrain has produced men to match it. Cecilia Carter’s compact set has a claustrophobic feel that heightens the intensity of the drama. It is the interior of Henry’s run-down house, walls painted in terracotta, in which living conditions are basic, a dining table, a kitchen and a bath all sharing the same space. The brothers, estranged from their father and each other, are Earl (Jack Sandle) and Ray (Joseph Arkley). They are at loggerheads from first sight, Ray suspecting that Earl’s account of the circumstances of their father’s death does not add up. They embark on a fierce battle to gain the upper hand, aggression matching aggression, but hints are dropped in that these men have been damaged irreparably by some incident in the past and two carefully nuanced performances indicate to us their vulnerabilities. Appearing in flashback, the hard-drinking Henry (Harry Ditson) is washed-up and cantankerous, displaying all the characteristics that his sons have inherited from him. He lets nobody get in his way, but finds a match in his lover, the wild and tempestuous Conchalia (Carolina Valdés). He too is haunted by a past that has left him wondering whether he had died years before, even though he still breathes and yells defiantly. All three men seek out weaknesses in others to exploit, bullying mercilessly a helpful Hispanic neighbour (Chris Jared) and a hapless taxi driver (Joe Evans), both of whom get caught up in the family feud unwittingly. The savagery of Shepard’s testosterone packed dialogue is often discomforting, but there are always rippling undercurrents to suggest deeper emotions. This is a complex work with many variations in tone. Uncertainly as to what to expect next gives it a natural tension that is harnessed beautifully in director Mel Hillyard’s powerful production. Predominantly, the play is a raw drama, but there are distinct touches of black, even absurdist, comedy and Hillyard remains tightly focussed. navigating through it with seeming ease. In the closing scenes, when the yelling has stopped, Shepard finally reveals what he has been leading us towards – the soft centre hidden by the hard macho exterior. It is here that the play packs its heaviest punch and, once again, Hillyard’s production delivers it with precision.

Performance date: 4 September 2015

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