Bush Theatre, London W12
Opened 16 October, 2007

In Ian McHugh, the Bush have discovered the new Philip Ridley (which is only proper, since they also unveiled the first one). McHugh's first original play is a Ridleyan blend of the grimy and the fantastical, with Story almost a living entity in itself. For good measure, there's also some minor mutilation of a young person, another Ridley hallmark. But McHugh is no copyist: he has found a way of articulating adolescent confusion far removed from the usual dramatic gamut of grunts, violence and domestic tension.

Seventeen-year-old Nick is a mild kind of idiot-savant: he knows little of the world beyond his Great Yarmouth bedsit but has an eidetic memory for literature, especially Shakespeare, especially The Tempest. In fact, he wants to be Prospero; well, with a posh wild-child muse named Miranda, he probably had little choice. Nick constantly tries to evoke the play, and to invoke it; having failed to travel to the enchanted isle by worldly means, he now bends his will towards conjuring it up in a ritual of his own devising. For the great work, however, he needs a third party; enter small-time hustler (in both the pool and sex senses) Will, whom Nick thinks may be his missing Ariel. Will is, in his own way, looking for a new master. None of this is spelt out, of course, and just as naturally the big incantation does not work. And also just as naturally, in this world where words and fantasies have far more substance than the half-derelict mess of Nick's walls and floor, the spell does work after all, in a number of unexpected ways.

After several months at the artistic helm of the Bush, this is Josie Rourke's own first production here. She has the exact measure of the intimate space, both in terms of the human interaction between Al Weaver's Nick, Rob Boulter as Will and Emily Beecham's Miranda and as regards making the theatre's dimensions work with and for the play. The title (again not made explicit) comes from a line of Caliban's, and the language sparks most when Nick and Miranda curse each other out in a shared game of theirs. But the imagination fizzes the whole time. O, brave new playwright that has such worlds in him!

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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