The Humans review – Richard Eyre and Noma Dumezweni in emotional thriller

O’Neill’s The Humans is billed as “a family drama from New York” but it hardly rings true, says Robert Armstrong. “A New York family drama with a British director?”

The Humans

Richard Eyre

Royal Court, London WC2

Four stars

“An absolutely compelling, almost sensual story from Irish playwright Martin McDonagh,” says Robert Armstrong. “The director in my opinion is Franny Moyle: she brings a very contemporary feel to the production. I think this is a play that suits the RSC’s American residency and could have been created for it, but I can’t find a basis in some of the phrasing or it.”

Armstrong is sounding more positive about the performance of Noma Dumezweni (“A star in the making – a breakout star”), the first black female actor to play the central role in an Irish drama. “A thrilling tour de force from Dumezweni: very little of what you see will surprise you.” He adds, poignantly: “There is a lot of description and talking about what happened to all the characters. At one point, there is an extended conversation that lasts for almost two minutes.”

The “notes” to this play by McDonagh, who has written seven previous plays, “should have a foot in 19th-century Irish history”, says Armstrong. “I think the setup is a test for his own temperament. I don’t think he shies away from controversy; I think he deliberately allows conflict to air itself: but what the playwright also does is balance this with a poetic eye. I don’t think he can help it but it is quite beautiful in places.”

The plays are sobering and gravity-laden, says Armstrong: “They are quite harrowing, and also quite comical.”

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