Anahera by Emma Kinane. The Finborough theatre, 118 Finborough Road, London SW10 to 28 September 2019. 4****. William Russell.

By Emma Kinane
Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED to 28 September 2019.
Tues – Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & Sun 3pm.
Runs 2h3 r 15 mins One interval.
TICKETS: 01223 357 851.
Review: William Russell 5 September

Anahera, a young Maori social worker, has been sent to stay with the parents of a missing eleven year old boy. It looks at first like a case of tea and sympathy, but gradually she begins to sense that something, she is not sure what, is not right and she confronts the parents with her doubts. Emma Kinane’s play adopts a complicated time structure so that we see the events at the time of the disappearance and then the situation ten years later, with the scenes alternating the time. It puzzles at first as you only see the children, Harry and his sister Imogen as adults, but as one starts to realise what is going on pays it dividends in understanding why the boy ran away and in creating the tension which mounts throughout as Anahera makes her stand against the powerful forces of the parents. It is not sexual child abuse, but power – bullying that is revealed. The mother, Liz, a splendid performance from Caroline Faber, is the stronger parent who, having had a terrible childhood herself, needs to keep her children totally under her control. In this she is abetted by her husband, Peter, played by Rupert Wickham, the survivor of a bullying father, who goes along with her actions. They are not evil, but damaged themselves are doing damage in turn, something which Anahera realises as a long, difficult evening passes while they wait for the boy to be found. Confronted with someone who does not do as they wish the couple reveal their real selves beneath that socially acceptable veneer and Anahera endures their abuse and threats. The performances after a slightly shaky start when the cast seemed to have difficulty grasping the acoustics of the theatre and lines simply did not come across with much needed clarity turn out to be extremely good. Faber’s Liz is a career woman mother, elegant, polished, ruthless but witty and charming, someone anybody would enjoy meeting and her breakdown as the damaged by tyrannical woman underneath the surface is revealed is shocking. She gets fine support from Wickham as the husband, a man with a fuse that gets lit in seconds while Acushla-Tara Kupe makes a touching, out of her depth, but utterly determined to do what she feels she must, young woman. The time shifts are a problem because while furniture gets shifted to indicate different places it never quite works so that one is – to start with at least – not sure just where one is. Once you get that the children are adults and we are seeing them as survivors themselves of damaging parents then it all comes together. Technically it is quite something to construct the play this way and the result is a deeply disturbing and enlightening evening. It is a portrait of people who should never have become parents, who are incapable of being what they firmly believe they are and what the world sees them as – loving, caring, ensuring the best for their offspring in every material respect. But also of a young woman learning just what her job requires of her. Somebody has told the social services of a child being out in the garden for a very long time and it is raising this with the parents that sets the revelations going.
Director Alice Kornitzer has handled the difficulties the play presents with great assurance and it moves at the right speed as doubts are planted, the evil doing slowly revealed. The play, premiered in Wellington in 2017, had a staged reading last year at the Finborough and this is its European premier.
Liz: Caroline Faber.
Anahera: Acushla-Tara Kupe.
Peter: Rupert Wickham.
Imogen: Jessica O’Toole.
Harry: Paul Waggott.

Director: Alice Kornitzer.
Designer: Emily Bestow.
Lighting Designer: Gregory Jordan.
Composer: Kate Marlais.
Movement Director: Natasha Warder.
Sound: Nicola Chang & Gwithian Evans.
Production photographs: All Wright.

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