Mark Ludmon reviews The Human Connection, a double bill of new plays by Eugene O’Hare at Omnibus Theatre in Clapham, London
The Human Connection
Omnibus Theatre, London
Two different stories are told under the banner of The Human Connection, a double bill of new short plays written and directed by Eugene O’Hare. One sees a father struggling with memories about his son, the other sees a mother and son struggling with the pressures of the Covid-19 pandemic. But what connects the two plays is not just a parent-child relationship but their unsettling depictions of humans trapped in emotional and mental crisis.
Stephen Kennedy gives a powerfully intense performance in the first piece, solo play Larry Devlin Wants To Talk To You About Something That Happened. On a bare stage under a harsh spotlight, Larry wrestles with the past, haunted by an apparently insignificant incident 22 years ago when he slapped his eight-year-old son, Donal. It is a masterful monologue in which Larry seems almost torn apart by his torment as he avoids a truth that only the audience can see. This all-consuming agony is set against a vivid picture of everyday life carrying on as normal in a small town in County Cork.
The second, longer play, Child 786, presents a more topical drama where 22-year-old Lennox is disintegrating from the anxiety of his life being put on hold by Covid restrictions since March 2020. Stuck back at the family home, he is torn apart by a sense of his generation being sacrificed for the sake of older people. O’Hare gives voice to the frustrations of younger people thrust into isolation and demonised as a “biohazard” at a time when they should be discovering their identity and starting out on their lives as adults. However, Lennox – in a strong performance by Joshua Williams – descends into a maelstrom of conspiracy theories and fake news while his mother, Hilary, played by Ishia Bennison, can only look on in despair and confusion. It can be uncomfortable at times as we hear the arguments that continue to circulate today, especially as we sit in masks in a socially distanced theatre. The play avoids taking no sides and instead exposes how society is becoming increasingly divided, with polarising rhetoric leaving no common ground for differences of opinion.
Both plays have a directness and intimacy that immediately creates a connection and draws you in. At the same time, they are both theatrically self-aware which, as Larry points out in his own “confession”, casts spectators as witnesses “in a dark room”. At times, it feels almost interactive, calling on the audience to join the conversation in a way that only live theatre can do.
The Human Connection runs at Omnibus Theatre in Clapham Old Town, London, until 4 July 2021.