Review: Hushabye Mountain cover photo

Review: Hushabye Mountain

Review: Hushabye Mountain cover photo

The National plans to stage Larry Kramer’s campaigning AIDS drama, The Normal Heart, later this year. But first, in Manchester, canny Hope Mill Theatre is reviving Jonathan Harvey’s 1999 play, Hushabye Mountain, another play which tackles the impact of the disease and its painful legacies.

Amy Dunn as Lana and Nathan McMullen as Danny.

Flashing back and forth in time, it is anchored at a pivotal moment when so many had died from AIDS, but new treatments meant that it was no longer a death sentence. Good news, of course, but what does that mean for those who had lost loved ones to the virus? It’s a question we might ask ourselves now too?

Danny (Nathan McMullen) is dead. His lover Connor (Layton Williams, excellent) and best friend Lana (Amy Dunn) are in mourning, trying to work out to move forward with their lives. As we watch them struggle we find out more about his life, his estrangement from his parents, his fears and his hopes. This is a big- hearted, rambling play which is quite frankly is a bit of a mess, but then grief is always messy, and Harvey doesn’t shy away from it by trying to make things nice and tidy—either emotionally or dramaturgically. The fact this is a play that leaks all over you is part of its power.

Matt Henry as Lee, Amy Dunn as Lana, Nathan McMullen as Danny and Layton Williams as Connor.

The tone is set by beginning with 'Feed the Birds' from Mary Poppins, the childhood favourite that young Danny sang on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral when he first arrived in London, and the fact it take its title from a song in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. But if you think that means that it’s non-stop schmaltz, you’d be wrong. This is a play drenched with the loss of childhood innocence and a yearning for love as we see Danny both alive and dead, dealing with his diagnosis and awaiting his entrance to heaven. But it is also sly and observant about class and friendship.

There are echoes here of Angels in America but something also very down to earth too about a show that dips both into the kitchen sink and the surreal. Nick Bagnall’s revival doesn’t always negotiate that smoothly, and watched online, the evening can feel a little stagey and stilted at time, particularly in the opening scenes. But stay with it, because this winding story about people discovering themselves in the shadow of death eventually captures both the imagination and the heart. The bonus is Jodie Prenger, who plays both Danny's mum and Judy Garland, the latter depicted here as heaven’s very own sparkly Charon, transporting souls into the afterlife.

You can watch Hushabye Mountain online until Sat 20 June. Tickets here.

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Lyn Gardner
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