Bush Theatre, London W12
Opened 13 June, 1997

The most succinct description of Lucinda Coxon's Wishbones "set in a small town in Derbyshire, Abu Dhabi and Ostia" and directed at the Bush by Simon Usher is "a play of two halves".

The first hour of the evening is primarily given over to low-key establishment of the five characters and their relationships: diffident middle-aged plumber Colin (Gawn Grainger) and his vaguely dissatisfied wife Gwen (Madelaine Newton) find their lives complicated by the return from the Emirates of Gwen's friend Audrey, who proceeds to trot after her like a spaniel; the circle expands to take in Alan (Kevin McMonagle), a furniture restorer with an on-off commission from Gwen who is haunted by the drowning of his nephew, and Mary, the disturbed, too-sensitive girlfriend of the deceased lad.

Usher takes the same directorial approach as he has done with Richard Cameron's plays, which at this point Wishbones closely resembles (an impression bolstered by the casting as Mary of Jane Hazlegrove from Usher's production of Cameron's The Mortal Ash); he slowly weaves moods, allows silences and implications their head and trusts in the play and well pitched performances to develop matters at a natural pace.

Unfortunately, in the second half Coxon gives things not so much a little push as a series of hefty shoves. During and after the central event, the annual dedication of a decorative cover for a local well (beautifully dressed by Imogen Jenkins), we are served up on a platter everything previously only hinted at: a love triangle which operates in all three directions, a cross-generational attachment, frustrated homosexuality of both flavours, infanticide and the sudden acquisition by just about everyone of a mastery of metaphysical metaphors. Incidents and tensions are treated with an explicitness entirely at odds with the foregoing.

Where previously the characters had seemed somewhat at sea in their lives, now it is the actors who must grope for a plausible through line. They generally continue in more or less the same register, which as a result varies from nigglingly to wildly inappropriate the most severe victim being Hazlegrove, who has somehow to engineer a transition in Mary from a kind of hysterical autism to cool, eloquent emotional manipulation. True, the seeds of all these developments have been sown in the first half, but the fruits they bear are of huge and misshapen proportions for such a diminutive dramatic field.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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