I have gone back and forth on my star rating for this play more than any other I can remember. If Plays To See allowed me to offer half stars I would have split the difference and gone for 2.5. As it is, I have erred on the side of generosity rather than stinginess and I think that’s right. Humane has a great big heart and its flaws are more than fixable.
I remember the battle of Brightlingsea vividly. 1995 was the year I went to university and turned 20. I was young and impassioned and deeply impressed with the community who came together to make a difference when it came to live animal experts. Ordinary people – many of whom had never protested before and were far from the usual suspects – came together and faced police violence, government indifference and arrests to keep fighting for what they believed in.
This play captures that spirit in the shape of Alice (Collette Zacca) and Linda (Francesca Isherwood) two strangers who meet and come together through the protests. They are both parents – Alice of older children and Linda of a toddler and newborn. Both are without men in their lives – Alice is long divorced, Linda’s soldier partner is on a tour in Bosnia. As such they come to rely on each other more and more as emotional and campaigning support.
The story is told through their relationship on stage and video tape (replete with a crackle that felt instantly nostalgic) footage of the real protests. The pace develops well – at no point does the action drag – and the women’s investment is well demonstrated even if their motivations are under-explored.
The show felt like it needed a little more work at times. Zacca in particular stumbled on her script at times and while her Alice was a compelling and sympathetic character this took me out of the drama a little.
The play also suffered a little from the time in which it was written. There is a racial element to the last half that feels tacked on and unnecessary. I don’t think that would have been a choice if we weren’t in this vital time of racial reckoning and I don’t think it strengthened the work now. Not because there wouldn’t have been racism in 1990s Essex, not because examining racial tensions within campaign movements isn’t important. But because these things both feel more important than the way they were handled here. This story stands up without it. A separate play examining these issues in greater depths would too. As it was it felt too clunky.
But for all this, the performances from both Zacca and Isherwood were joyous. The delight of the characters in the strength that campaigning gave them was wonderful to watch.
Humane has a great big heart. At its heights, it makes you feel good about doing good. I left feeling good if a little perplexed about some of the choices made.