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Hyem (yem, hjem, home), Theatre 503, London, review: This debut play yammers with natural ability

Actor Philip Correia's first play is a character study of broken lives 

Paul Taylor
Wednesday 13 September 2017 19:37 BST
Patrick Driver as a Cockney Lord of Misrule and Ryan Nolan as his latest young recruit both turn in superb performances
Patrick Driver as a Cockney Lord of Misrule and Ryan Nolan as his latest young recruit both turn in superb performances (Nick Ru)

When you really peer at it, the homely little front room starts to look like a weird cross between a taxidermist's and an Anne Summers shop. Is that a dildo, spray-painted gold, in the candlestick? And all those stuffed animals on the walls that, at first glance, might appear cute and Disney – don't you think they seem poised to let out their inner Angela Carter? The cosy and the kinky are unsettlingly confused in Jasmine Swan's excellent knick-knack-stuffed design. Oh and there's a 6ft pet python – that answers to the name of Vivien Leigh – coiled in a tank and off its food.

Mick and Sylv's offers a refuge to the some of the teenage waifs and strays – kids from broken homes with nowhere else to go – on a bleak estate in Northumberland. A safe haven, with a bit of question mark over “safe”. Actor Philip Correia's debut play yammers with natural ability. His fluent dialogue explores every comic nook and cranny in the intonation patterns and syntax of the Geordie dialect. He knows how to create an equivocal situation that keeps you guessing even as it unravels. His play has a smack of Philip Ridley (see first paragraph) and his central character, Mick -- the Pied Piper of Fountain Park – is cut from the same cloth as Johnny “Rooster” Byron from Jerusalem.

Splendidly played by Patrick Driver, shaven-headed Cockney Mick is another charismatic Lord of Misrule who surrounds himself with social rejects and lets them run amok. He's a compulsive performer, with a rough-diamond ex-military air, always regimenting his young “squad” in party games. An Old Labour man, he does not like Blair's Britain (the play is set in the run-up to the Iraq war) and in this house – which belongs to his lover Sylv (a superbly bone-dry and battle-scared Charlie Hardwick) – the paranoid constraints of the nanny state are lifted to a fault. There's porn, alcohol and fags, a fantasy Porsche and adolescent fumbling. The latest recruit, a lonely gormless 13-year-old, nicknamed Dummey (a lovely, expertly layered performance from Ryan Nolan), has the dubious privilege of looking like Mick's son, Michael, who went off to war in contentious circumstances and is now missing presumed dead. Dummey responds gratefully to Mick's (over-physical?) favouritism. But is this boy, you wonder with a shiver, being groomed?

Jonny Kelly's finely judged production sustains the sense of ambiguity. Mick and Sylv aren't faking their affection and concern for these kids who are unwanted by their own families. They create a sense of fun, but there's something not quite right. The young actors (Sarah Balfour and Aimee Kelly) turn in ace performance – hilarious and troubling in their matter-of-fact mix of L-plate knowingness, naivety and need. “Did he get a semi?” asks one, after hearing the other has been kissed by Dummey. “Probably. Couldn't tell.” “That's a bad sign, isn't.” “Shut up. It was dark.” But then matters take a turn for the worse and there's a brick through the window. Dean (Joe Blakemore), an older taciturn tough with a teardrop tattooed on his face, who would seen to be a grudge-nursing graduate of this academy (with a room retained upstairs) looks to be simmering to have his say. I reckon that we are going to be hear a lot more from Correia, clearly a talent to watch.

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