PTSD, domestic violence, gender fluidity, feminism, politics and the decline of the middle-class in the USA – this play is not afraid to tackle the big issues.
Hir, starring Wentworth Falls actor Helen Thomson opens at Belvoir St Theatre in Sydney on August 12.
Thomson says despite the serious nature of these themes, the play is quite funny. “In actual fact it has a great deal of heart and it’s funny as all get out,” she says.
“With serious subject matter it’s a clever thing to have people laughing at the same time and thinking about the bigger issues. It’s great entertainment.”
Thomson was cast early as the newly minted matriarch Paige in the Australian premiere of Hir by New York playwright and performance artist Taylor Mac. When Thomson was first approached by Belvoir’s artistic director Eamon Flack, she initially hesitated.
“My first reaction was complete terror. It’s quite bold. It’s unconventional, funny but quite black,” she said.
“I was so frightened of the challenge so I thought I absolutely have to do it, so I said yes.”
Hir tells the story of Isaac, a returned serviceman who has come home from Afghanistan to care for his dad Arnold who has suffered a stroke. Isaac finds the family home turned upside down, his younger sibling, Max, is transgender, and his mum Paige is out from under the thumb of her domineering and violent husband, and they’re both out to smash the patriarchy.
The confluence of Arnold’s incapacity and Max’s coming out has led Paige into a kind of radical feminism and she exacts revenge for the years of abuse by humiliating her incapacitated husband. She force-feeds him oestrogen, dresses him as a wild drag clown and puts him in nappies.
Paige isn’t crazy, Thomson explains, “she’s a woman who for a long time was abused by her husband."
“It’s quite thrilling to watch her emerge out of a dark place."
Thomson has been making good use of the long train journeys into the city from Wentworth Falls using the time to learn her lines. Paige talks a lot, she explains, so it’s a “real mental and physical challenge.” And a total contrast to the TV work she’s been doing lately where segments are filmed in small grabs.
Thomson will appear in the second season of Top of the Lake: China Girl, as well as Pulse, Doctor Doctor, and A Place to Call Home, all to be screened before Christmas. But variety is the spice of life, Thomson says with a laugh. “It’s nice to mix it up a bit.”
For the first time, Belvoir has cast a transgender actor to play a transgender role in the play Hir. Kurt Pimblett from Wollongong plays Max, and it’s the role of a lifetime for the 23-year-old actor who only took up acting full-time a year ago.
The play offers food for thought on how families respond to gender transitioning.
“It throws families into complete turmoil, drug addiction and transition, these are issues that have to be worked through. It’s easy to stand back and judge how you would have handled it,” Thomson says.
“The ultimate idea of this play is we should be compassionate and understanding of people’s journey, open-minded and supportive.”
Hir is showing at Belvoir Upstairs Theatre from August 12 to September 10. Tickets available by calling the box office: 9699 3444.