Before my editor’s invitation to review Half & Half I must with some shame confess I had never heard of Daniel Keene. After attending the second night performance I doubt I will ever forget the playwright, the production or the performances.
This is not because the play has unforgettable plot or storyline. At that surface level, two brothers of the same mother but different fathers, born 20 years apart, meet again after a separation of 10 years, with the return of the elder to family home now occupied solely by the younger. Both are patently damaged personalities. At surface level, the elder is a passionately extroverted loquacious, rumbustious, philosophical aggressive alcoholic. The younger is an anally retentive insecure introvert . By the end of the evening, each, through bizarre episodes of discovery motivated principally by the actions and reactions of each to or by the other, has “healed” … “ become whole” as two halves might when they fuse organically.
To reveal how just how bizarre the episodes of discovery are would I suspect either persuade the reader we are inviting them to a night in a two-person asylum, or it’s the work of another one of those self-indulgent playwrights with one hand hard at work on the word processor and the other on selected parts of the anatomy.
To engage and be engaged by this piece, leave all preconceptions, prejudices and conditioned expectations in the foyer. Enter the theatre as an empty and non-judgmental vessel and allow the production in all its aspects, and the balance and power of the performances reach the recesses of the subconscious and liberate our modern penchance to ignore, suppress or deny the power of the parable, the magic of the metaphor, the revelation of rituals and the symmetry of symbolism.
Half & Half is not a play as such. It’s a dramatic allegory alive with accessible symbols, a performed parable weaving mystical metaphors. It drew from the audience bursts of spontaneous laughter, not from measured “gags”, but perception of the absurdities of existence we all experience from time to time. Moments later it took us to that almost sacred silence sensed in the live theatre, when actors and audience share in the “space” recognition of our creative, emotional and spiritual needs.
Sean Mee’s production meets the demands of the piece in all respects. As and when required it travels at hyper-speed , turns us through 360 degrees without discomfort, stops with the efficiency of a Ferrari, or hovers in compelling silence. Bill Haycock’s set (complemented by David Waters’ lighting design) will be a talking point in thespian circles for some time to come I suspect.
Half & Half is meant to be experienced, and can be without necessarily being understood at an intellectual level. The characters might symbolise the left and right sides of the brain. But however you may read them, Hayden Spencer as Luke the elder, and Jason Klarwein as Ned the younger, balance each other physically, vocally and emotionally and realise the text superbly.
A few days before attending the play I was given Michael Leunig’s “the Prayer Tree”. In it the following poem/prayer appears. It now seems to me that more than chance was involved:
God help us
To rise up from our struggle.
Like a tree rises up from the soil.
Our roots reaching down to our trouble, our rich, dark dirt of existence.
Finding nourishment deeply
And holding us firmly.
Growing upwards and into the sun.
I invite you to see the play, and revisit the poem. You may be surprised.