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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Herd
Bush Theatre Autumn 2013

Actor Rory Kinnear has written a strong domestic drama filled with passion and insight. And if it is occasionally overwrought and overfull, that is far preferable to a play with less energy and less to say. 

Carol is the fiftyish single mother of a profoundly disabled and sickly son who is in care but coming home for his twenty-first birthday. Joining the party are Carol's parents, supportive and no more intrusive than is inevitable, her thirtyish daughter and, unexpectedly, the daughter's boyfriend, who is the subject of much curiosity and gentle grilling. 

Also unexpected and unwelcome is Carol's estranged husband who wants, after many years of complete absence, to help celebrate his son's birthday. 

I'll give nothing away when I say that the son doesn't appear, and that the play is about everyone's various angers, resentments and griefs over both the past and the present. 

In allowing everyone their say and forcing everyone to listen, the playwright guides us to the realisation that a mother's love can be as exclusionary as it is infinite, and that in devoting her entire being to the care of her son Carol not only left herself little love for the others around her but allowed them no entry, no room for them to express their love for her or for the boy. 

One of the play's most attractive aspects is that there are no villains here. Carol is celebrated for being a hero of motherly devotion even if it's tinged with martyrdom, and even the deserting husband, who admits he left because he couldn't handle it, is allowed the recognition that what he couldn't handle was being allowed no role to play. 

This drama can't escape being filled with shouting, tears and bitterness, but director Howard Davies generally keeps it from going over the top, hitting just the right note of believable intensity and high theatrical energy. 

Amanda Root plays Carol as a mother lioness with limitless determination and ferocity and the occasional humanising glimpse of exhaustion. Adrian Rawlins quietly wins us over to sympathy for the husband without disguising his character flaws, and there is solid support from ever-reliable veterans Anna Calder-Marshall and Kenneth Cranham as the grandparents and Louise Brealey and Adrian Bower as the younger couple.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  The Herd - Bush Theatre 2013

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