Bush Theatre, London W12
Opened 16 June, 2011

This is the theatrical equivalent of an adventure playground. After years of searching for a new home, the Bush Theatre is now in the process of moving a couple of hundred yards into the former Shepherd’s Bush Library. There the theatre will finally have enough space to run itself as the powerhouse of new writing that it is, and as importantly that space will be its own instead of shoe-horned between a pub downstairs and the landlady’s flat upstairs. But things are very much in transition, and so artistic director Josie Rourke has made a virtue out of necessity.
This first production is in every respect a test flight for the new premises. It consists of three short plays, each lasting 20 minutes or so. Each play uses a selection of props culled by the Bush staff from their stores; these include a giant strawberry and a necklace of fingers. Each playwright has been given asset of stage directions by a distinguished theatre practitioner to incorporate into their piece. Furthermore, each play is staged in a different configuration of the new space: thrust, in the round and finally end-on. To top it all off, in the intervals whilst the auditorium is being rebuilt, we are invited to nose around the rest of the premises and make suggestions for improvement… on Post-Its or on the walls themselves, which are already covered in marks showing plans for the architectural and technical work to be done. In the meantime, Amy Cook and Lucy Osborne’s designs take a cue from the provisional air of the place, with sets either made of or made to look like cardboard.
The plays themselves are somewhat secondary. Deirdre Kinahan (with stage directions from Michael Grandage) has written a knowing little theatre-parody sketch in which a trendy director jazzes up (or something-elses up) The Wind In The Willows, and Tom Wells (with characteristically detailed directions from Alan Ayckbourn) supplies a wistful duet in the manner of 1950s/60s British theatrical absurdism. Jack Thorne’s Red Car. Blue Car. (with directions from Rourke) is an engrossing slice of that writer’s trademark low-key storytelling set around a hospital A&E department. Director Tamara Harvey and her company of six (including Francesca Annis, Hugo Speer and Nina Sosanya) seem to enjoy the “let’s do the show right here!” challenge as much as we do.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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