Anahera, Finborough Theatre – Review

“You’re not a saint and I’m past redemption.”

One could argue that the worst thing a parent could possibly go through is for one of their children to go missing. But what if as a parent you found out that someone had reported your ‘parenting’ to the authorities? Written by Emma Kinane and directed by Alice Kornitzer, Anahera takes place in New Zealand, where 11-year-old Harry Hunter has gone missing. Waiting at home, his parents Peter (Rupert Wickham) and Liz (Caroline Faber) are understandably distraught. Instead of ‘Janet’ from social services visiting, Anahera (Acushia-Tara Kupe) a newly qualified Maori social worker arrives.

Ali Wright
Anahera (Acushia-Tara Kupe) / All photos © Ali Wright

Anahera initially tries to be helpful, but also keep a professional distance. However, the Hunters’ have an insatiable appetite to know everything about her – her heritage, her religious beliefs and how that might bring ‘comfort’ at a time like this. But once there are indications that all is well, the parents’ demeanour radically changes and we’re left to wonder why Harry disappeared in the first place…

Asides from these events in the past, the play also takes place 20 years later when Harry as an adult (Paul Waggott) and his younger sister Imogen (Jessica O’Toole) are undergoing therapy sessions with their mother. Running chronologically backwards, these future events reveal an acrimnious relationship between the adult siblings and Liz. Here we see a contrite woman who is willing to listen to everything her children have to say and accept any accusations made as gospel. However, her words fall on deaf ears, validating the sentiments of Maya Angelo: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Ali Wright
Liz Hunter (Caroline Faber)

Proving Ibsen right that “The strongest [person] upon the earth is [s/he] who stands most alone” Anahera puts herself in a vulnerable position by not leaving the Hunters’ residence. Kupe brings an empathic quality to the role, the character’s strength and resolve stemming from her capicity to feel and sensing the conflict from not being honest with oneself. Of all the characters in the play who are ‘sure’ of their respective positions, Anahera is the least ‘rigid’. But because she’s willing to go the extra mile and not hide behind protocol which would keep the situation unchanged, Kupe’s Anahera nevertheless channels quiet determination, borne out of the love she was exposed to growing up.

As the Hunters, Faber and Wickham vividly bring to life a couple who are multilayered and have different ‘faces’ for the public and in private. Their relationship earlier and later in the play reminded me of Mary Tyler Moore’s and Donald Sutherland’s characters in Ordinary People. Both Wickham and Faber are able to convey convincingly the Hunters’ positive traits – civil, intelligent, sociable – as well as their ‘less friendly’ side when they’re challenged and don’t get their own way. Faber in particular taps into deep reserves for some of the character’s ‘primal’ emotions, which surface the closer Liz is to her ‘epiphany’…

Ali Wright

As the siblings, Waggott and O’Toole are very much ‘what you see is what you get’. Still working through their respective ‘baggage’, they are self-aware enough to realise that the events of their childhood have changed them for the worse. In the case of Harry, it’s affected the relationship with his own children, whereas Imogen is with child and would like closure before she herself become a mother… More vexing and disconcerting for them is that they may be turning into their parents…

As a play, Anahera repeatedly subverts expectations and challenges the audience regarding double-standards that creep into ‘values’. At the play’s beginning, one initially wonders if it will go down a similar route to David Lindsay-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole with its naked honesty. In some ways it does, but it very much follows its own path and in the second half, it exceeds expectations in terms of the stakes raised.

Certainly as each character speaks, one can understand to varying degrees the rationale of their arguments. But regardless of what’s said, one has to ask does the person’s opinons and feelings justify their course of action? And while deliberate harm to others is unconscionable, it’s amazing how psychological and emotional abuse is tolerated and condoned in everyday life…

© Michael Davis 2019

Five Stars

Anahera runs at Finborough Theatre until 28th September.

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