Thursday, October 09, 2008

Broken Space Season at the Bush

I like the dark. Long before carbon footprints had entered the lexicon, I was the one bustling round the house switching off lights and contentedly damaging my eyes as I read and wrote with the aid of one lone lamp in the corner of the room.

So the idea of the Bush Theatre’s Broken Space season, a season of short plays born out of necessity and staged at least partly in the dark, was particularly appealing. A series of leaks and floodings were causing the theatre serious problems, as Andrew and I can testify having had to stand gin-less for twenty minutes on the cramped stairwell waiting to see Anthony Weigh’s 2000 Feet Away. So, as they are unable to use their lighting grid, they have responded by staging a changing triple bill of plays that make a virtue out of being minimally lit.

Temporary seating has been arranged around three walls of the theatre, facing the windows, which are open to the street. The line-up varies over the course of the month, with work by Jack Thorne and the increasingly ubiquitous Lucy Kirkwood due to feature alongside work by more established names including Bryony Lavery and the super-ubiquitous, absolutely everywhere Neil LaBute.

The longest of the three plays and the one unchanging thread of the season is Declan Feenan’s St Petersburg, about an elderly man and his middle aged daughter. She bustles around him, making him lunch, cleaning his flat and checking that he’s taken his pills. It’s well observed and often very funny, with a strong undercurrent of sadness, of past pain and things left unsaid. It’s a solid, unflashy piece of writing made more poignant by the dying light outside the window. (And the Whingers would particularly appreciate the cooking and consumption of a bacon sarnie that happens midway through)

The final piece of the evening was performed in total blackness, the shutters closed on the Shepherd’s Bush streets and only a sole torch beam to illuminate things. The theatre floor has been covered in loam, spongy underfoot, and a square of plastic had been pegged out in the middle of the room. The chairs had been removed and the audience was made to stand as if at some sort of midnight gathering: there was a whiff of Blair Witch to the whole set up. Anthony Weigh’s The Flooded Grave was a grotesque and darkly comic account of an exorcism; it was atmospheric, yes, and well performed, but there was something about it that didn’t quite click, it felt too much like an exercise; a bit of a let down considering the build up.

The most successful and memorable piece for me was Simon Stephens’ Sea Wall, an utterly captivating, skin tingling monologue, superbly performed by Andrew Scott. This was wonderful, the simplest of three pieces and yet the most powerful. The writing, full of devastating detail, was captivating and aptly staged in fading daylight.

It seems odd though to have one unchanging play at the centre of the season as otherwise I may well have returned to see some of the other pieces. Also you are forced to vacate the theatre between plays so the stage can be reset, and, as the Bush as no proper bar of its own, you can either stand in noisy next door bar or hover awkwardly in the little lobby. Fine for a fifteen minute interval, a bit of a chore when there’s a gap of over half an hour as there was in the case of the first two plays. Still it’s small complaint, the Stephens monologue alone made it worth it.

No comments: