Herons is a sensitive and mournful play about urban disaffection and brutality, a deeply affecting examination of vulnerability and violence. Flashes of occasional poetry and reverence temper the bleakness of Stephens’s play; it is a sympathetic portrayal of damaged and fragmented lives.
The play is set around Limehouse Cut and the Lee River in East London, by a sluggish and almost-lifeless canal, where fourteen-year-old Billy fishes every day. As he waits patiently for the two or three tiny tench he usually catches, the miserable history of his life and the canal slowly emerges. A year earlier, Billy’s crumpled father witnessed a violent murder and testified in court; now the perpetrator’s brother Scott is taking his revenge on Billy. As Scott and his gang increase their campaign of bullying to a terrible crescendo, the play’s atmosphere of submerged menace becomes horribly real.
Herons premiered at the Royal Court Theatre, London, in 2001.