views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Etcetera Theatre
8th May 2016


Gary Heron and Alexander Hulme as Tony and Jeff

Photography provided by Campling Hicks Productions

When the son he wished he had always had crosses paths with the son he wished he had never had, life starts to get a bit complicated for Tony (Gary Heron). Partially because his daughter-in-law, Sharon (Natalie Harper) keeps turning up to shout at him. The only thing more devastating for the homophobic company boss than finding out his estranged son Jeff (Alexander Hulme) is into men, is finding out Jeff is having a relationship with his star employee, Malcolm. It's a small world in writer and director Matthew Campling's new play, Abominations.

Many of the story's developments feel too obvious and in a play that actively supports gay rights, that level of cliché is a little disappointing. Knowing what will happen next takes away from its impact and this is further exacerbated by the lack of time we have to digest each revelation. Campling has a lot of ideas, which is of course commendable, however he rushes through them all, trying to cram them into a mere 75 minutes and for reasons I don't quite understand, splitting those 75 minutes into two with an interval in the middle. This play would be much improved by sacrificing some of the background for the benefit of developing the other plot points, lengthening the running time, and if it still comes to under 90 minutes, hacking out the interval too. Having gone to the trouble of creating four characters, Campling should let us spend more time getting to know them - they're certainly interesting enough.

The characterisation is a bit of a mixed bag. Sharon is kept two-dimensional, with her role limited to being angry and sulky, which is a real shame because Harper is capable of far more complex portrayals and Abominations would be an even more compelling tale if we could sympathise with everyone in it. After all, whilst Sharon clearly isn't the easiest person to live with, Jeff has to take some responsibility for entering into a marriage that he knew could never possibly work. Yes, she's flawed, and like Tony, some of what she spouts is utterly horrendous and hateful, however when you can get your audience to really care about the imperfect beings as well as the playwright's intended heroes, that's so much more powerful. Campling reveals his agenda too soon by dismissing Sharon outright.

Alexander Hulme and Christopher Burr as Jeff and Malcolm

Photography provided by Campling Hicks Productions

The deliberately over-soppy declarations of love by Malcolm make us cringe and smile in equal measure, with some lovely comedic lines there, but this doesn't prevent his enthusiasm from being credible. Whether he genuinely feels that passionately about Jeff or he's blurring his affections for the other man with his exhilaration at finally stepping out of the closet, it's not clear, and I don't think it really matters. It's very rewarding to see how his personality develops from when he first meet him to in his final scenes; the character growth is written well. However, there are some jarring actions in the middle, such as when Malcolm first gets in touch with Jeff - it feels too unprompted. We almost need a trigger for it to feel more natural, even something as simple as his best mate-cum-father-cum-employer Tony trying to set him up with one of the female workers.

Jeff is by far the most successful character. Although there are some issues with the way his backstory is crafted and shown to us, we largely forgive them because Hulme totally understands the part and makes the material he does have somehow work. With his director's hat on, Campling gets the most possible out of Hulme. Jeff is blunt, deliciously dry and his fear of getting hurt always at the core of everything he does. We hear it in his lines, but we also see it in those little furtive glances at Malcolm. We're emotionally invested in Jeff because for all the weaknesses, his role is still quite fleshed out. Hulme makes us laugh out loud and also feel pity for his character, with the actor taking us through a gamut of emotions. Spot on casting with Hulme, that's for sure.

Although Tony does become a bit less real towards the end of the play, his unashamed bigotry at the start does seem entirely and depressingly plausible. I would like Campling to spend more time highlighting Tony's relationships with his would-be son and actual son because we catch a brief glimpse of Jeff's anguish due to Hulme's terrific acting and it feels like this could be brought out more to simply heartbreaking effect. The religious overtures may be too much for some people, however I think Campling presents his arguments well and creates the basis for a good old debate.

There's a lot of potential evident in Abominations. I sincerely hope Campling goes on to iron out the play's niggles and stage another run, because he could yet polish up this rough diamond into something very hard-hitting and relevant.

Abominations ran from 3rd to 29th May 2016 at the Etcetera Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)

Follow us on Twitter

Leicester Square







performing arts