How would you react if you overheard a 7-year-old suggesting you were gay to his pint-sized pal?
Would you ignore him and put it down to childish mutterings? Would you use it as an opportunity to explain what gay meant? Or might you berate the innocent infant with the pent up ferocity of a starved tiger?
In EV Crowe’s latest play Hero, primary school teacher Jamie chooses option three with unsurprisingly distressing circumstances.
Such vehemence acts like a magnifying glass to prejudice. Murmurs become actions and actions escalate.
As Jamie finds himself frozen by fear, fellow teacher Danny, who actually is gay, provides the perfect scapegoat. But he has his own history with prejudice, while his partner would rather not rock the sexuality boat while they are trying to adopt.
I’ll happily hold my hands up and say I’m always excited about the prospect of watching Daniel Mays perform, whether on stage or screen. Hero is no disappointment. Mays brings his special brand of frantic to the panicky Jamie, slowly revealing a rotting, fearful malignance.
Liam Garrigan brings a fearless, forthright passion to Danny, nicely balanced by Tim Steed’s reserved performance of resignation and realism as partner Joe.
Crowe, a member of the Royal Court’s ‘super group’ – like Band Aid, but with plays instead of music and less charity? – is never far from a PC-baiting, witty tension lifter, whether it be conjugating the verb ‘To gaybash’ or dwelling on the misspelling of faggot, and her climax to the first half is as heart-thumping a cliffhanger as I can remember.
I do wonder, though, whether a couple of the key points don’t ring entirely true. You’d have to work in a primary school to know for certain. Clearly, I don’t, but they didn’t feel right, like a regularly underachieving pupil suddenly scoring highly the day he sits next to the brightest pupil in the class.
Dubious or not, they serve to shine a light on today’s acceptance – or not – of homosexuality, equality and masculinity, the play offering a quartet of viewpoints on the same issues.
On a Mike Britton-designed set that mixes a school gym with open-plan kitchens, director Jeremy Herrin plays the first half straight – for want of a better phrase – before both he and playwright Crowe mix it up in the second.
As I left, I heard a fellow audience member mumbling about lack of character growth. They’re right, these people don’t move forward. Instead, stress and anxiety find them slowly revealing the truths at their core and the realities behind their every day facades.