Have You Herd, an experimental take on dystopia set in the fictional land of Losheepa, delights in its audience’s discomfort. It follows the struggle of a young girl and boy, played by Cheryl Ho and Samuel Rowe respectively, in their struggle against the Whoves, a wealthy ruling class who have turned Losheepa into a warzone. The set is sparse, the lighting dark, and the audience participants sit in the front row, scared, bewildered, and decorated with identifying armbands. From the very first second, co-creators Cheryl Ho and Ng Sze Min have us right where they want us, wholeheartedly believing that we are in Losheepa.
One of the greatest strengths of this production is the sound design, also by Ng Sze Min. She doesn’t go overboard; her stunning effects aren’t present for the majority of the hour-long production. She has the unique talent of making you feel as if her textures are not just around you, but enveloping you. In particular, the whisper effects sent literal chills up my spine. Lighting design by Rachel Zany Lee was restrained, and fit perfectly with the overall minimal and creepy vibe. Costumes were, again, minimal yet effective, demonstrating the socioeconomic divide between the ruling Whoves and lowly workers of Losheepa.
Cheryl Ho’s writing was strong overall, but incorporated a few clichés in the dialogue here and there. That being said, the performers, including Ho herself, were able to deliver these lines in such a way that they felt fresh. Samuel Rowe fluctuated seamlessly between an earnest, conflicted Losheepan boy torn, and the extremely creepy head of the Whoves. The real standout, however, was Sarah Fitzgerald. As a guide for the audience, both in their roles as visiting Whoves and new workers, Fitzgerald delivered one of the most unnerving performances I’ve ever seen with the assistance of a disturbingly cheery musical triangle. Her relentless smiling and instructions to the participatory audience to “chew slowly” the “generous” rations of one cracker were carefully unhinged.
Despite its minimalistic style, Have You Herd is an ambitious production. Every step is choreographed, which could come off as overly showy, but is carried off seamlessly by the performers. Likewise, the dance/mime sequences brilliantly avoid musical theatre goofiness.
The inclusion of the participatory audience is brilliant, creating a kind of frightened complicity and unwillingness to speak against those in control that would be otherwise impossible to manufacture. The creators do know when to give the audience a break and let up on the seriousness, and incorporate hilariously bizarre comedy delivered with excellent timing.
Overall, Have You Herd is a unique and unclassifiable experience. When the lights came on at the end, the audience stayed glued to our seats, unsure of the divisions between the play and real life, and almost afraid to leave.
Daisy Elizabeth Feller
Have You Herd runs from the 15th – 17th of March at the Guild Theatre