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  • Henry Longstaff

Hummingbird - The Vaults

A humorous exploration of grief in Christopher Neels's new play

Photography: Giulia Ferrando


Jude and Brian have begrudgingly settled into farm life, taking over the business from Jude’s late father whilst her sister Phoeb has left in search of her husband after his sudden disappearance. Her abrupt return cuts open old wounds as lingering misery raises barriers between the family. Christopher Neels’s new play demonstrates how when cut off from the outside world grief can mutate and fester, threatening to topple all that you took for granted.

Despite tackling a heavy topic Neels’s script is fantastically witty and wry in its humour, employing the strong comedic skillsets of the cast. Throwaway quips and subsequent sarcastic outbursts ensure the themes are balanced and incredibly accessible with proper laugh out loud moments peppered throughout. Though bizarre at times, such as Phoeb believing that her missing husband has returned to her as a hummingbird in a shoe box, there is so much heart and tenderness to the storytelling, making it all the more heartbreaking when it all comes crashing down.

Phoeb (Louise Beresford) in her blind desperation to be with her husband decides to build wings to fly with him - a clear, blunt solution that to her seems like the most obvious and sensible solution going - Beresford packs a punch in displaying Phoeb’s vulnerabilities and loss. Brian (Amit Shah) gets drawn into this project, his passion for all things space and flight on full show, though his innate need to be distracted by projects is reminiscent of an ostrich burying its head in the sand - a flawed character performed well by Shah. Whilst Phoeb and Brian are busy building wings, Jude (Nancy Zamit) is left to talk to the sheep, separated, grieving for the life she thought she was building towards. Zamit wields much of the humour of the piece, notably with her wonderful scene partner Meryl - a laundry basket-shaped sheep and wonderfully battles through a game of monopoly whilst bitter arguments rain across the table. Zamit’s emotional delivery arrives later as the true toll of the situation bears down on Jude. As an ensemble, this team gel well together and form a convincing, dysfunctional sort of family.

Design wise there is some strong sound design from Bella Kear with a nice original score from Oli Rew & Andy Room upping the emotional intensity. Virginie Taylor’s lighting is effective but it is her projection design that is particularly wonderful. Considering the limitations associated with fringe and Vault shows, the projection was charming and added an additional layer of warmth to the production.

After the hour runtime, I was left wanting a little more from the piece, whether that be a little more emotional weight or even additional complexity to help this production stand out a tad more from those around it but in all Hummingbird makes for a compassionate and ferociously funny evening, complete with three great performances and grounded writing, exploring that despite experiencing the same loss, grief can manifest itself in innumerable challenging ways.

Running till 5 March - Tickets

Photography - Giulia Ferrando

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