Bush Theatre, London

Theatre Review: The Herd - Rory Kinnear's debut play is well acted but a little forced

3.00

Amanda Root shines in Howard Davies's production

The Olivier Award-winning actor Rory Kinnear has pulled off the neat trick of being in two places at once in London's early autumn theatre season.

At the National, he is a superb Iago to Adrian Lester's Othello. Meanwhile, he is making his debut as a dramatist at the Bush Theatre with The Herd, a witty, agonising and eye-opening play which draws on his experiences as the sibling of a severely disabled older sister.

The format is a family gathering – a twenty-first birthday party – with the twist that Andy, brain-damaged and physically incapacitated from birth, has a mental age of ten months. As they await his arrival from the care home, the play reveals, with clarity and compassion, the profound emotional impact that the constant fight to look after him has taken on his nearest and dearest.

Amanda Root is wonderfully embattled as his mother, Carol, whose life has been monopolised by the struggle since she was abandoned by her husband when the boy was five. She's snarling and scornful when he (Ian, played by Adrian Rawlins) gate-crashes the occasion, seeking a fresh start with his son. "It's the guilt you can't live with," she says. "Not Andy you can't live without."

But it's telling that, with Andy's best interests at heart, she's prepared to let Ian stick around in case there's a flicker of pleased recognition from the birthday boy. By contrast, Louise Brealey, excellent as their 33-year-old daughter, Claire, reacts to Ian's presence with a gut-wrenching mix of fury and need, still wounded by a sense of rejection and the unfairness of having being required to take on the role of second parent to Andy.

The piece sometimes feels a bit awkward, as though it has set out on a conscious mission to instruct. Nevertheless, its observations on how extreme disability can call forth all-consuming devotion, and on the intractability of the blame game that then ensues with those who feel they have been sacrificed, are keenly felt.

Director Howard Davies's beautifully acted production does rich justice to the weave of painful insights and playful humour. Kenneth Cranham exudes gruff warmth as the grandfather who himself needs help with moving around, and Anna Calder-Marshall brings a deliciously sly comic timing to the part of Patricia, the imperious grandmother who reacts to the news that Claire's boyfriend (Adrian Bower) is a performance poet with a lovely little flinch of sceptical forbearance.

To October 26: 020 8743 5050

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

    Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

    The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
    Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

    Stolen youth

    Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
    Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

    Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

    He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
    Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

    Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

    Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
    Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

    Made by Versace, designed by her children

    Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
    Anyone for pulled chicken?

    Pulling chicks

    Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
    9 best steam generator irons

    9 best steam generator irons

    To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing