Review: Hyem (yem, hjem, home) at Theatre 503

A quick examination of the cluttered living room set of Philip Correia’s debut play Hyem (yem, hjem, home) suggests we’re in the domain of a slightly eccentric collector. Family photos are proudly displayed alongside – amongst other assorted oddities – Viking helmets, guns, some ugly animal ornaments and a side table adorned with a gold dildo. Oh and let’s not forget the glass tank, which turns out to contain a six foot python.

In fact, Jasmine Swan’s set is a pretty accurate metaphor for the home of Mick and Sylv. Located on a dodgy estate in Northumberland, the house provides a refuge of sorts for an assortment of local kids, all of whom for whatever reason feel they have nowhere else to go. It’s not hard to see why they keep coming back – at Mick and Sylv’s they can smoke, drink and party as much as they like, and far from trying to keep boys and girls away from each other, romantic liaisons are actively encouraged.

Photo credit: Nick Rutter

But though the couple clearly care about their young visitors, there’s something not quite right about the whole setup, and once we learn the neighbours have been talking (not to mention throwing bricks through the window) it becomes more and more difficult to see it all as entirely innocent.

Correia clearly doesn’t believe in making it easy for us, and Jonny Kelly’s production keeps things ambiguous throughout, hinting at just enough of an uncomfortably physical relationship between Mick and newcomer Dummey – a fatherless thirteen-year-old who bears an uncanny resemblance to Mick’s absent son – to fuel our suspicions, but never quite enough to prove anything. Ryan Nolan and Patrick Driver play this relationship perfectly; seen from one perspective it’s heartwarming, from another quite disturbing.

Both also excel individually – as Dummey, Nolan displays all the hilarious awkwardness of any teenage boy just discovering girls for the first time. But there’s also a touching vulnerability to the character; at the end of the day, Dummey just wants someone, anyone, to want him. Driver explodes on to the stage as cheerful Cockney Mick, “the Pied Piper of Fountain Park”, who seems – for better or worse, and despite his clearly genuine love for his wife – to only really come alive when he’s surrounded by young people.

Charlie Hardwick is perfectly cast as Mick’s wife Sylv, her bawdy good humour dissolving over time as she becomes increasingly concerned about her husband’s behaviour. Here too there’s ambiguity, and it’s sometimes difficult to tell if she’s afraid of what people think, or if she has suspicions of her own. Sylv totally steals the show in the closing moments, baring her soul in a powerful rant against those who judge the way she’s chosen to live her life. With similarly strong and complex performances from the other cast members – Sarah Balfour, Aimee Kelly and Joe Blakemore as the lost souls who currently complete Mick and Sylv’s unconventional “family” – the stage is set for 90 minutes of unsettling but compelling domestic drama, which has the potential to develop in all kinds of directions.

Photo credit: Nick Rutter

Another great thing about the play – a production from NorthSee Theatre – is its use of language, and specifically the Geordie dialect, which is thick enough to be authentic but not so much that the dialogue becomes difficult to understand for audiences outside the North East.

Hyem is a layered, intriguing play that draws us into the home of its title and invites us to join the party, yet still somehow leaves us feeling slightly out in the cold, wondering what’s really going on inside. Not one for those who like all their loose ends neatly tied up, maybe – but if you’re okay with a bit of ambiguity, this fascinating exploration of what really makes a house a home is definitely worth checking out.

Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉

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