Circa One, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

09/10/2021 - 06/11/2021

Production Details

Radical family drama ready to explode  

Director Katherine McRae is back at Circa with Taylor Mac’s Hir, a barnstormer of a show about gender, family, and struggling for power in a post-patriarchal world.

Postponed by the covid19 lockdown in 2020, A Mulled Whine and Circa Theatre are thrilled to be able to bring Hir to Wellington audiences for the first time.

When Isaac returns from the war with PTSD and a drug habit, he exchanges the battlefield for the warzone of the family home when he discovers that his nuclear family has gone rogue. Surrounded by the detritus of crumbling norms in a house that never gets clean, Isaac needs to relearn family life while his mother keeps his father docile, and his younger sibling changes the world.

The cast includes Circa luminaries Perry Piercy and KC Kelly, as dysfunctional matriarch and patriarch Paige and Arnold.

Director Katherine McRae says: “Now that the violent father has been neutralized, Paige, the mother, is reinventing a world for herself and her children. But is her world any less chaotic and crazy? Is there room for forgiveness or empathy?”

“I was attracted to this play as it examines a family who live in a world where the traditional power and gender roles have been flipped upside down. It made me rethink my own upbringing and imagine how future family structures might look.”

Paige and Arnold’s children, Isaac and Max, are played by Dryw McArthur – returning to Circa after his stunning performance in Burn Her in 2019, and Felix Crossley-Pritchard, making his Circa Theatre debut.

Felix says about Max: “I adore Max’s indecisiveness – one minute ze has something to say about everything, the next ze is silently brooding. I think it complements the other characters as they endeavour to keep up with Max’s torrential teenage feelings”.

Playwright Taylor Mac says “The two words, here and hir, sound the same and mean different things and connecting them thematically felt delightful. This present moment in history and the characters’ lives, to me, is about transition. So to think of America and the present moment as a transgender character, as someone going through transition and redefining its language and understanding of itself, simply felt right.” 

Dryw McArthur plays Isaac, the prodigal son who returns home from military service to find his home and family have become a warzone.

Dryw says “I wanted to play Isaac as he goes on such a huge journey in the play and it’s unlike any role I’ve ever done. Taylor Mac’s storytelling is so fresh and detailed, and working with this group of creatives will be an absolute joy.”

Rounding out the dysfunctional family dynamic is KC Kelly as Arnold – once the malignant dictator of the clan, Arnie is now a benign lump in an armchair, being fed doped up milkshakes by his former victims.

Themes of gender, power, and family collide with drug addiction and domestic depravity. Audiences can expect the messy viscera of a home falling literally and figuratively apart.

Designers Lucas Neal, Marcus McShane, and Seraphina Tausilia-Brown are tasked with the exciting challenge of bringing the world that Taylor Mac has created to life. Think garbage, clowns, and puppet shows, and you’re getting a taste for the electric experience that Hir provides its audience.

Circa Theatre, Circa One
9 Oct – 6 Nov 2021
Preview Fri 8 Oct
Tues – Thurs 6.30pm,
Fri – Sat 8pm, Sun 4pm
$25 – $52
$42 ‘Concession’ price (i.e. Community Services Card, Gold Card or student ID required)

Content warning: Hir contains depiction and discussion of domestic violence and content that may offend, including slurs.

Isaac – Dryw McArthur
Paige – Perry Piercy
Max – Felix Crossley-Pritchard
Arnold – KC Kelly 

Set design – Lucas Neal
Lighting design – Marcus McShane 
Costume design – Seraphina Tausilia-Brown 

Production Team
Rehearsal Stage Manager/Queer Liaison – Stevie Hancox-Monk
Stage Manager/Fight Captain – Sam Tippet
Technical Operator/Set Assistant/Sound FX – Jacob Banks
Assistant Stage Manager – Anna Barker
Publicity by Jean Sergent
Graphic Design by William Duignan
Promotional Photography by Aden Meser
Production Photography by Roc Torio
Comedy Director - Andrew Paterson
Fight Director - Ricky Dey
Make-Up Artist - deLilah Tausilia
Produced by Eleanor Strathern, A Mulled Whine Productions

Theatre ,

2 hrs 15 mins incl. interval

The best kind of theatrical shock

Review by Mallory Stevenson 11th Oct 2021

American playwright Taylor Mac’s Hir is infuriatingly excellent, a relentless series of outrageous and contradictory political provocations piled on top of each other until they somehow form what I’d assume is the best domestic drama of the past decade.

A young man named Isaac returns from military service, deeply traumatised. On arriving home, he finds that Arnold, his violently abusive father, has been disabled by a stroke and is being dressed in clown makeup and force-fed oestrogen by his mother Paige. Her symbolic revenge, which also involves refusing to ever clean the house or put away laundry, has been inspired by the queer feminist ideas she’s learned from her recently transitioned nonbinary child Max, whose ze/hir pronouns give the show its name. Isaac clashes with Max and Paige’s radicalism, Paige clashes with Isaac and Max’s masculinity, Max clashes with Isaac and Paige’s straightness, but none of them behave predictably or stereotypically for a second.

It’s this dialectical layering of contradictions that makes the bizarre action so painfully human. It would have been so easy to make military-macho Isaac a stubborn transphobe. Instead, he accepts Max’s gender, if uncomfortably, and is eager to show hir some male bonding. Paige could easily have been more straightforwardly sympathetic if she weren’t so cruel to Arnold, who she constantly humiliates and neglects, but we’re never allowed to forget the depth of the trauma he inflicted on her.

The binaries of male-female, anarchy-order, straight-queer are established strongly, but no character sits cleanly on either side of any of them, and their meanings arise from, and are changed by, the emotional needs of the characters. It’s always a question of the order that Isaac wants, the queerness that Max wants.

Katherine McRae’s production has the immediacy of a premiere and the surefootedness of a repertory staple. With beautiful and unselfconscious blocking, on a strikingly realistic set by Lucas Neal, the actors are simply allowed to let the words explode.

The script preface indicates that, for Isaac, the whole play is one long attempt to avoid a PTSD-induced breakdown, and Dryw McArthur embodies this perfectly. He nimbly reflects his character’s tenderness as well as his fear and anger, all while carrying off the classically virtuosic feat of appearing constantly at breaking point.

Perry Piercy as Paige ably takes on her role as the play’s emotional crux, making us understand her own, more repressed case of PTSD. Although she plays for laughs a little too often, she makes her character feel tragically real.

Felix Crossley-Pritchard’s Max is movingly vulnerable, frustrated, clueless, and full of the awkwardness of lonely adolescence and the start of transition. K.C. Kelly, constantly onstage but usually mute, plays Arnold with stunning physicality, avoiding the risk of exaggeration that his character presents.

Seraphina Tausilia-Brown’s costumes look perfectly lived-in, aided by Marcus McShane’s warm, domestic lighting.

The play’s force originates in its ability to provoke, and I imagine the discomforts it’ll inspire in straight and cis audiences are different to those it’ll cause for trans and gay ones. (I notice a lot of laughter at times that feel inappropriate on this particular evening.) Mac turns feminism into something bizarrely specific and grotesque, but still insists on its necessity. All of the characters are deeply wrong and full of pain and fear, but their ideas can’t be dismissed as simply personal.

By boiling up these tensions in the ancient pressure cooker of the 2-act family drama, and adding a dash of camp gallows humour, Hir makes them marketable even to those who mightn’t normally confront them. It doesn’t demand that we understand the characters, but it insists on empathy, a kind that’s terrifyingly universal without ever forgetting politics, and that’s what makes it such a frustrating lightning bolt of a play. To see it performed with this much commitment is the best kind of theatrical shock.


Maryanne Cathro October 30th, 2021

We went to see this show last night, thinking it was going to be about Hir. It isn't, it's about everything and nothing. It was deeply unsettling and a woman stood up at the interval and expressed her upset to the audience! But you strap in and see it through, and I am so pleased we did.

It is so difficult to ride a play with no heroes through to the end. By that I mean for us all, including the actors. But they did a fabulous job.

I discovered in myself a buried need for the couch cushions to be put backand left in the correct position almost to eh point of compulsion, which I think was my way of hangng in there.

This is not for anyone who wants a feel good play, or a resolved ending, but it's something we can all benefit from watching. Don't ask me why, I just felt like I'd dome some sort of necessary exercise for my own health, if only to be reminded that redemption doesn't always look like a victory.

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Review by Emilie Hope 11th Oct 2021

If you were to think that HIR (pronounced ‘here’) is a show solely about coming to terms about gender identity, you would be mistaken.

The play, which the American playwright describes as absurd realism, is steeped in black comedy as a family tries to march towards a better future without reconciling the past. [More]


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Riveting and relatable anywhere to provoke and challenge anyone

Review by John Smythe 10th Oct 2021

Named for a pronoun preferred by Max, previously known as Maxine, Taylor Mac’s Hir (pronounced here) invites inevitable comparison with Andrew Bovell’s Things I Know to be True, seen at Circa last year. Premiering about a decade ago, both plays depict upheavals in the assumed ‘norms’ of suburban family life where gender is not the only thing that turns out to be fluid. But while Bovell pits conventional parents against their dysfunctional and/or very different adult children, Mac confronts a young adult son with a hot mess of radical change in the family home.

Set somewhere in the USA, the home – beautifully (if that’s the word) designed by Lucas Neal and lit by Marcus McShane – looks like a bomb site with unwashed laundry, dirty dishes, boxes and cushions dumped or flung every which way. It’s not what dishonourably discharged US Marine Isaac (Dryw McArthur) is expecting on his return from active service in Afghanistan, where his job was to collect body parts and return them respectfully to bereaved families.

His previously subservient mother, Paige (Perry Piercy), is now hyper-dominant. She has rejected all the demeaning demands of domesticity, works for a ‘not for profit’, is embracing change with alacrity and is “all about the metaphor”. Her once alpha-male and abusive plumber husband, Arnold (K.C. Kelly), has suffered a stroke. He now cowers in a clown wig, face paint, flimsy nightie and adult nappies, and his makeshift bed is in a carboard box, homeless-style.

Isaac’s teenaged ‘tomboy’ sister Maxine is now out as transmasculine Max (Felix Crossly-Pritchard) and wants to leave home to join the Radical Faerie Commune (a loosely affiliated worldwide network and counter-cultural movement seeking to redefine queer consciousness through secular spirituality). Although being home-schooled by Paige, Max is learning lots from the internet and claims that ze is educating her.

There is no ‘welcome home’ party for Isaac. Paige and a reluctant Max are heading out on their weekly arts expedition, to an installation depicting a dismembered St Theresa. Declining to join them, Isaac is left to confront the mess and his father’s sorry state.

In her excellent programme note, director Katherine McRae quotes Taylor Mac: “To think of America and the present moment as a transgender character, as someone going through transition and redefining its language and understanding of itself, simply felt right.”

Despite the domestic (up)setting, Mac’s ‘state of the nation’ allegory plays with conventions from Ancient Greek comedy and Commedia dell’Arte, and I get more than a whiff of Samuel Beckett too, not least in Arnold’s existential bewilderment.

While elevated to the level of darkly farcical absurdism, everything is rooted in recognisable reality. And every time we may feel aligned to one point of view or another, something will subvert our certainty – which pretty well reflects the way most of us experience the real world, perhaps even more so since this play premiered in 2015 (pre Trump, pre Covid …)

Perry Piercy’s Paige is superbly commedia-calibrated to offer stirring rallying calls to liberation and chaotic revolution while confronting us with the truism that the abused can become abusers. K.C. Kelly’s clown-like Arnold also commands sympathy until we glimpse his mindless reversions to toxic behaviour.

Isaac joined the marines to find a way of fixing the world and Dryw McArthur captures the resulting PTSD-infused confusion with an impressive blend of military control and vulnerability, punctuated with bouts of dry-retching.

Initially Max seems the most self-assured in hir choices and revolutionary zeal until hir surprising obedience to Isaac’s orders – directly opposed to the anarchy ze purports to espouse – betrays a deep need for a male role-model, leaving us to wonder where that might lead. Felix Crossley-Pritchard navigates every twist and turn with total conviction.

Seraphina Tausilia-Brown’s costume designs range from ordinary to extraordinary to serve each character and their stories well.  

Towards the end of the play, Paige proposes selective empathy. As with many moments over the two hours of strutting and fretting, I am provoked to interrogate that proposition – and so conclude that although none of the characters have found resolution or redemption by the final blackout, it is empathy for all that we are left with. And given we are unlikely to totally condone anyone’s actions or desires, that at least is a starting point for considering how to proceed in our own lives.

As per the pun in the title – Hir pronounced here – this play is relatable for anyone anywhere in this fast-changing world, even where attempts are being made to reinstate rejected value systems. As the director of this riveting production, Katherine McRae ensures every character, moment and paradigm-shift is given its due to provoke and challenge us.

Highly recommended.
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Footnote: Hir is Part II of Taylor Mac’s planned ‘Dionysia Festival’, to be performed in an all-day festival echoing the Greek Dionysia. All four plays deal with cultural polarisation:

  • Part I: The Fre – about an intellectual aesthete who gets trapped in a mud pit.
  • Part II: Hir – a play about a dysfunctional family
  • Part III: The Bourgeois Oligarch – The story of a gauche philanthropist as he prepares his acceptance speech.
  • Part IV: Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus.


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