A whiff of abuse lies at the heart of Anahera, a bold play from the pen of Emma Kinane, currently showing at the Finborough Theatre in London’s Chelsea.
It makes for gripping viewing as the story, set in New Zealand, unfolds in two separate time periods: ten years previously and ten years into the future with the time line for the future acted out in reverse. A little confusing to begin with, but it all works rather well in the end.
The story is based around the Hunter family. Parents Liz (a quite magnificent Caroline Faber) and Peter (an equally impressive Rupert Wickham) are visited by young (and newly qualified) Maori social worker Anahera (Acushia-Tara Kupe) following the disappearance of son Harry (Paul Waggott).
What starts off as a possible abduction story slowly changes its spots as Liz and Peter’s true characters are revealed – and Anahera’s stubborn probing intensifies. Liz and Peter, it soon becomes clear, are both wrapped up in their work and are strict, unforgiving parents. Liz more so than Peter. A result, in big part, of their own difficult upbringings where parental bullying and abuse was much to the fore.
‘Children are selfish,’ declares Liz. ‘They need to be put in their place.’ A view that results in Harry and sister Imogen (Jessica O’Toole) spending hours on end standing still in the family garden as punishment for insignificant misdemeanours, often wetting themselves in the process. Actions that unbeknown to Liz and Peter have drawn past complaints from neighbours to social services. Actions that Anahera wants to get to the bottom of.
For Harry the adult, the scars of such parenting run deep – explaining his disappearance as a child in the past and the angry (hard drinking) adult he has become (his own marriage has already failed). Indeed, he has become a clone of his parents and his attitude towards mother Liz is unforgiving. In contrast, Imogen (a mother to be) is more ameliorating, attempting to bring mother and son back together.
Anahera stands firm throughout her encounter with Liz and Peter. Just like Harry did in the garden when being punished – despite nature calling. Clever symmetry from Kinane as is the moment when stroke-afflicted Liz in the future wets herself.
It’s all rather sad in the end. Only mother to be Imogen holds up a ray of sunshine amongst all the bleak clouds that rain down on Anahera in sheets of depressing New Zealand rain.
Although more than two hours long, Anahera never drags. It grips from start to finish, although the climax is a little underwhelming.
The play is enhanced by some fine acting with Faber leading the way. Her Liz is a driven individual. Intelligent, but scarred. One moment all charm. The next, all anger. A rock ready to shatter at any moment. Faber conveys all Liz’s contradictions, virtues and vices quite brilliantly. An exceptional performance. A tremor of the hands here. A scream of anguish there.
Wickham’s Peter is also full of contradictions. Caring one moment. Angry the next. An imposing figure towering over all before him. Utterly convincing as is Waggott’s Harry.
A special mention for O’Toole who early in the second act (September 10) painfully cracked her head on a table while on stage, but battled on bravely until the end with an egg-like bruise on her forehead. Stoic.
Anahera is an important play, expertly directed by Alice Kornitzer. Worthy of life post Finborough.
Title image by Ali Wright