THEATRE

All of You Mine Bush Theatre, London
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The Independent Culture
'I go nowhere, I see nothing... the only place I drive myself is up the wall." Cissy Cade, widowed mother of three grown-up children, is lying in her sun-baked backyard, complaining. Tough, gruff and an expert guilt-tripper, she winds her family around her little finger, the South Yorkshire equivalent of the Jewish mother. Meanwhile, Alma, her long-suffering daughter, is tending the plants she has brought over in her lunch hour from the garden centre run by her brother Danum, a former miner and stalwart of the strike.

The third child, Verna, hasn't been seen for 12 years but shock waves are felt when she returns to attend the memorial for Jo, the father of her child and the love of her life. He died in an accident during a supposed safety check down the pit at the height of the strike and Verna, who knows too much about shared guilty secrets from the past, is seeking vengeance. The prodigal daughter, she's not.

Richard Cameron's latest play is part-family drama, part-thriller, part- social realist lament for the working man. The metaphor of digging beneath the surface and the recurring images of flowers are slightly obvious attempts to create a structural unity and he does tie elements together with a nice line in tart remarks, but the mix of styles is the key to the play's weakness. His dedication to character provides meaty roles for a generally strong cast but deals a blow to pacing that even Simon Usher's alert direction cannot overcome. The flashback scenes are clumsy and don't help the much- needed forward momentum while other scenes, however well played, are often there simply to pass plot points between characters.

The second half is more successful. The explosive confrontation between the powerfully convinced Marion Bailey as Verna and loudmouthed Earl (excellent Andrew Dunn, rising from dismissive anger to rattled passion) is an exciting synthesis of all of Cameron's ideas but, elsewhere, the thriller aspect - mixed motives and mysterious mendacity during the miners' strike - veers towards soap opera, using threatening melodramatic curtain lines such as "You've started something now". The rambling construction makes you wish he'd go the whole hog but his over-plotted play shies away from a slap-bang denouement and leaves you peculiarly unsatisfied.

It's wonderful to have the Bush Theatre and its impressive, searching new-writing policy back again but the new season opener is a disappointment. Anthony Lamble's garden set is a wonder and the production has moments of undeniable power, but this is not Cameron at his best. It's a great relief to see a man writing a play so resolutely centred around women, and the depiction of diluted lives built on lies, or at best half-truths, is theoretically moving but you end up applauding the intentions rather than the earnest achievement.

Booking: 0181-743 3388

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