Review: The Human Connection, Omnibus Theatre

The Human Connection - Omnibus Theatre

Star Rating: ★★★★

In a triumphant reopening, Omnibus Theatre in association with Savage Artists present not one, but two world premieres of new work by Irish actor and playwright Eugene O’Hare, performed in an exhilarating double-bill. With the evening being entitled: The Human Connection, both new works symbiotically present gritty examinations into the relationship between a parent and their child, intuitively being delivered as a direct address, each piece enacts as an intelligible dialogue between actors and audience. Broaching the moral complexities of the relationships from the idea of parental guilt, to body autonomy, mental health, grief, political and moral opinion, generational differences and more.

Photo credit Damian Robertson

The first, Larry Devlin Wants to Talk to You About Something That Happened, originally intended to premiere as part of the Barbican’s cancelled Ghost Light series, follows Larry as he is stiffly remains frozen in time, cyclically remembering the guilt of how he once struck his son over 22 years ago, a father’s guilt that is as fresh as if it just happened, despite Larry’s son Domhnall not even remembering the incident. As the loop ensues, Larry tries to talk through his guilt, but his vivid memories begin to cloud his sense of reality. O’Hare writes a beautifully tender and bleak portrait of a father’s devotion being eaten away by guilt and despair, whilst his direction is particularly balanced and tenable. Stephen Kennedy’s Larry is simply exquisite, he delivers a multilateral performance of this trapped and utterly broken father, that is defined by such poignancy and it’s sense of frustration, conveying perfectly how Larry can’t seem to come to terms with both Domhnall and himself about how sorry he is about what he did, authentically emanating this idea of Larry being a shell of a man, swallowed by grief unable to get closure and thus creating this sense of stasis, confusion and a detachment from reality. From Kennedy, we see the piercing sadness behind Larry’s eyes and the guilt in his stance, from his slouched inward posture to the way he distractedly plays with his hands and places them in his pockets. The delivery is wonderfully balanced, it provides an energetic semblance of the other characters involved and is excellently paced, the tension building to dysregulate Larry’s emotions and confused grip on reality accordingly. Furthermore, Damian Robertson‘s Lighting design, which contrasts the vastness of the black-box space behind Larry, with a stark spotlight beating down on him, does much to build this sense of Larry’s entrapment in his own guilt/grief and the memories of it, as well as physically demonstrating the pressure he is seemingly putting on himself to make things right. The piece is ultimately hugely evocative and emotionally rich, clean, precise and strong. A masterclass in conversational storytelling.

The second premiere, Child 786 is an exceedingly dextrously and meaty black comedy for today. It focuses on the less than ideal life of twenty-two year old Lennox, who has finally left his already deserted university campus to move in with his single mum, Hilary. Both of them have big personalities and both hold very different opinions on the global crisis of today, they talk, or rather argue at length about their thoughts on: policy and procedure, scientific guidance, mental health, the treatment of the elderly, the idea of body autonomy and more. The work thus vividly pits the generally opposing opinions of Gen Z against Boomers, providing a tangible and decadent political and moral discourse, particularly as it is directly addressed to the audience, inviting you to settle on your own opinion. O’Hare’s writing here is incredibly intelligent, he lays the opinions of individuals, left and right leaning, all over the floor, and asks why there isn’t a true middle ground for holding those responsible accountable, determining that we are encouraged to fight amongst ourselves rather than aiming our frustrations at those who have all the power. Hilary is a classic, stiff-upper lip, keep calm and carry-on Brit, she unquestioningly wants everyone to stick to the rules and get through this together whatever it takes, whilst Lennox is full of ‘conspiracy theories’ as she calls it, such as the government using the lockdown and extending it further, to hide a lot of the issues thrown up by Brexit. He is a particularly extreme and outspoken character, yet his stances are entirely plausible and somewhat grounded in realism, whilst Hilary’s oblivious is optimism is both humorous and admirable and is very in keeping with the sentiments of many. Lennox is a fountain of facts and knowledge, fighting on the side of the mental health of the younger generation, he describes the elderly as being left abandoned, whilst highlighting the economic devastation that will ensue. Whilst Hilary determinedly takes the stance that the virus is and was something to be feared and that all actions taken have reason behind them. Making the piece a wonderful plain of dialectic discussion. On top of this, is the sinister idea that Lennox thinks he was part of medical trials as a child, in which he was vaccinated with something and observed over night, he repeatedly comes back to this idea of body autonomy and that he didn’t get a say, whilst Hilary denies the instance outright, it being Lennox’s estranged father that told him of the trials before he left them for good. Lennox thinks he has found other participants online and discovers several have died around his age, he feels unwell so assumes the same is happening to him, yet it is never clear if the medical trial really happened and who is telling the truth, leading on to this idea that political opinions are often based on perception rather than fact. Making the work overall, incredibly subjective and provocative. Having Lennox return from a facility, does however create this idea that his mental health was struggling and that he, with his mother’s assistance sought help, providing an incredibly moving portrait of how this global crisis has affected most people’s mental health in some capacity, whilst the subtleties of performance even hinted towards Lennox considering suicide, an urgent impression of the resulting global mental health crisis we are also in the midst of. Whilst we see the character’s fight, we also see them embrace, giving such of spectrum of their family dynamic, it goes from one extreme to the other, eloquently demonstrating the pressure these times have put on families, the home environment being a pressure cooker for extreme emotions.

Photo credit Damian Robertson

Performance wise, the chemistry that Josh Williams (Lennox) and Ishia Bennison (Hilary) engender is incredibly authentic and full of wit, they fight like mother and son and they apologise, saying, with conviction ‘I love you’, like mother and son, a spellbinding duo. Bennison’s charmingly obtuse Hilary, the overbearing mother often seen fussing about her son, is delivered by Bennison in a wonderfully jovial and humorous manner, she tuts at Lennox and looks knowingly at the audience as he steamrolls into yet another rant. Her energy and visible concern/upset, do much to convey the torn complexities of this strangely optimistic single mother, who evidently always tries to put a smile on her face and do her best, and who, unconditionally loves her son, him being the only thing she feels as if she has left. So though, she is outwardly upbeat, Bennison’s delivery is full of nuance, the smile briefly dropping every so often, to determine the fear underneath that she might one day lose him and be left with nothing, whether that be by an argument they can’t recover from or in death. Whilst Williams’ Lennox is fixated on having his opinion heard, encouraging his mother to enter into a discourse with him, getting more and more erratic as he spirals into everything he believes. Williams’ performance is particularly energetic and dextrous, not only does he enchantingly deliver a self-righteous character who has a lot to stay and is clearly hugely frustrated, his capricious physicality and pacing of dialogue reflecting this, Williams’ refinement of character is multifaceted and strong, giving the sense of Lennox’s unsettled mental health status underneath.

Photo credit Damian Robertson

To conclude, Eugene O’Hare writes and directs a double-bill of palpable and provocative theatre. His writing is a phenomenal mouthpiece for the modern human experience, divulging lot of food for thought and realistically quantifying the relationship between a parent and their child. The performances are similarly of the highest calibre and not to be missed. Click here to book now for The Human Connection at Omnibus Theatre, running until 4th July. Find out more about the Omnibus Theatre’s Summer Season here.

Photo credit Damian Robertson

Creatives: Director and Writer – Eugene O’Hare, Producer – Bridget Kalloushi, Lighting Designer – Damian Robertson.

Cast: Larry Devlin Wants to Talk to You About Something That Happened: Larry – Stephen Kennedy (22-27 & 29 June), Ed Hogg (30 June – 4 July). Child 786: Lennox – Josh Williams & Hilary – Ishia Bennison.

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