If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet, Bush Theatre, London
Wednesday 04 November 2009
David Hare published a very penetrating article recently in which he characterised the Noughties as the decade of Looking Away, technologically, politically and morally. By a somewhat delicious irony, I found myself reading this on a train late at night while being steadily eyeballed by the young man opposite, who was giving his girlfriend the most thorough of snogs. They had moved on to heavy petting by the time we hit Didcot, his glances to check on me now fitful.
I raise this because it directly relates to If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet, a lovely, shrewd new play by the George Devine Award-winning young playwright Nick Payne. In an all-blue, the-sky's-literally-fallen production at the Bush, the splendid cast release all the play's wry understanding of the privations caused by looking too fixedly in one direction while ignoring matters close to home.
George (hilarious Michael Begley) is an academic environmentalist who is so busy saving the planet that he's way off in his own private galaxy. The mere thought of letting his family take a much-needed foreign holiday makes him give at the knees and twist in a kind of pious concern at the thought of the carbon footprint. He never uses the definite or indefinite article once when he can use it four times. This stems from nerves, but it also comes across as an irritating donnish groping for exactitude. The earthling most neglected by this emotionally green Green-ness is Anna, his overweight, unhappy teenage daughter (attractively played by Ailish O'Connor), who also suffers from the invidious fact that her mother (Pandora Colin) teaches at her school. Almost edibly charming in Rafe Spall's brilliantly funny portrayal, her dubious ally is her slacker-ish uncle who is a walking kerfuffle of good intentions (he listens; he has her best interests at heart) and erratic, embarrassing execution (handing out condoms and drunken home truths, while also arousing the girl's fledgling sexual desires).
There are scenes of great, well-observed unflinching painfulness. An Indian meal during which George tries to get to know his daughter makes the toes curl, and I could watch only part of the distressing and unprurient episode where poor Anna tries to drown herself in a bath. Me, I'd rather watch a snogging couple on a train any night of the week.
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