Bush Theatre, London W12
Opened 14 June, 2010

The subtitle of Anthony Weigh’s 75-minute play, An argument and an architectural model, sums it up. The stage is dominated by a tabletop model of a village which has suffered a Dunblane-type school massacre: “The Architect” (no character names; played by Deborah Findlay) has designed a memorial based on the existing school building, but she is visited by “the Mother” (Sarah Smart) of one of the victims, who demands a monument less concerned with preservation and more with the spirit. The Mother is blind, which enables a number of not-quite-unsubtle references to sight and vision, both literal and metaphorical. The third character is The Intern, who serves to break up the slabs of debate between the other two, to allow the Architect to expound her Weltanschauung regarding form, function, meaning etc., and who at the end redeems her earlier inanities (Phoebe Waller-Bridge is admirably unafraid to be a bit of an eejit) by becoming a mouthpiece for what would seem to be the author’s viewpoint on such matters.

Weigh has put immense thought into the subject; the title comes from poet Robert Lowell’s description of a monument sticking “in the city’s throat”. But it works only fitfully as drama, despite a trio of solid performances in Josie Rourke’s production. We find an increasingly bald opposition between one character, the Architect, who almost entirely embodies our rational secular values but with whom we cannot identify because she is cerebral and arrogant, and another, the Mother, who has a similar monopoly on compassion, principle and nobility but is likewise alienating by dint of her religiose fervour, with declarations such as “I will always choose God over the truth.” This prevents our being speciously seduced by one or other point of view, but it also makes us less rather than more inclined to focus on the substance. In fact, a fourth character, mute but heavily symbolic – “the Child”, unsurprisingly – had been cut from the play during previews, suggesting an awareness that, like the memorial, its form does not entirely follow function. A better analogy would be with that model: we can see all the shapes of ideas clearly delineated and laid out, but they are not on a scale that we can inhabit or move amongst. The perspective is plausible but false.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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