Bush Theatre, London W12
Opened 3 August, 2009

Following on from last summer’s production (revived at Christmas) 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, the Bush has once again commissioned a themed evening of sketches and playlets from a team of young writers, this time including Joel Horwood, James Graham and a couple of names more familiar as actors, Zawe Ashton and Michelle Terry. It has already been seen at a clutch of venues around the country, including the Latitude festival, and is standard summer fare: not too long (only a whisker over an hour), not too demanding and generally affirmative.
Or is it? The idea may be that everybody makes an inadvertent fool of themselves on occasion so it’s nothing to get hung up about is a laudable one, but building an entire show out of such incidents can arouse ambivalent feelings in those of us who can’t always achieve what Henri Bergson called the “momentary anaesthesia of the heart” necessary to appreciate comedy of embarrassment. The uncomplicatedly warmer segments include Felix Scott’s warm-up, where the hated audience-participation ritual morphs into a moment that allows him to mock us all, “You’re dancing to Cher!”, and a scene in which he and Hugh Skinner play middle-class gents at a public-school reunion who regress to squabbling brats. But some odd notes are struck, not least with the first lengthy section, in which Kathryn Drysdale’s character recalls in some detail losing control of her bowels in a natural-childbirth pool. A later monologue in which Drysdale recounts in brief an entire lifetime of faux pas, and especially a drunken not-best-man’s speech from Scott which turns suddenly pitch-black, are the best written pieces. More formal episodes are punctuated by incidents posted to the actual web site by members of the public.
The greatest asset among the four performers is Katie Lyons, who flings herself with reckless abandon into every portrayal, whether it be a drunken Bristolian on the predatory pull in a club or an audience-ogling rendition of an “it’s not about me, honest” song about being unable to score with anyone. But the show as a whole needs to cohere more tonally as well as thematically, and whilst of course the Bush are allowed to have fun like everyone else, one tends to expect fun of a higher calibre.
Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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