suddenlossofdignity.com, Bush Theatre, London
Stories that will make you blush
Thursday 06 August 2009
Have you ever made a fool of yourself in public? This is not the kind of question best answered by a theatre critic, perhaps, but the Bush Theatre's new show is not really aimed at serious and self-important people. It's aimed at teenagers who get drunk in clubs and throw themselves at each other, usually missing.
No surprise, then, the show was a hit at the recent Latitude festival. Its faux matey-ness and "let's all get up and dance" atmosphere seems strained in the sober, cramped confines of the Shepherd's Bush attic studio.
I wasn't too bothered about being asked to pose like a teapot ("You been going to teapot posing classes, or something, mate?" was the actor's cheeky comment), but when we all found ourselves waving our arms in the air and dancing to Cher – even Cher doesn't dance to Cher – things were obviously getting a bit out of hand.
Party stuff aside, what you do get is a sense of some lively writing talent and some outstanding acting talent. The Bush sought red-faced fess-ups from five young writers, none of them well known, two of them actresses, and also from audience members.
The result is a dozen or so sketches, punctuated with punters' emails, played hectically on a small square acting area for only 70 minutes.
But the effect is denser, especially in the Alan Ayckbourn-style scene of a snobby mother and hen-pecked husband welcoming guests to a village fete: their daughter's got psoriasis, their son's gay and Mum's had a mastectomy; her one good breast pops out anyway among the vol-au-vents.
In two bizarre sequences that perhaps don't fully fit the embarrassment bill, a walking Woolworths berates a jumped-up Iceland for being cheap and frozen – who could possibly replace Woollies in the nation's heart, and how will his missus, Debenhams (Debs), survive; and, at a school reunion, two honking Herberts resort to violence and vicious good manners over the girl one of them married.
Otherwise, the material is mostly about sex and the chase. The actors – Kathryn Drysdale, Katie Lyons, Felix Scott and Hugh Skinner – go through pick-up motions and vague assaults on the dance floor, then line up to deliver vignettes of anticipation, sexual congress with commentary during and after, and an unwanted gas escape.
Several sketches feature the same crew of West Country slappers and cool dude bar-flies, one of them nursing a guilty fixation with the songs of Westlife. The denial of this enthusiasm is undermined by its repetitive outbreaks, and the show engineers its own powerful finale with a company rendition of the irresistibly cheesy "Flying Without Wings" hit.
This restores a welcome lightness after a startling drunk speech at a wedding, possibly written by the same hand as on the Ayckbourn tiller (the material only carries a group credit for Zawe Ashton, James Graham, Joel Horwood, Morgan Lloyd Malcolm and Michelle Terry). After the official speeches, the drunk reveals how the groom raped his (the drunk's) under-aged sister in a disabled toilet.
It only remained for the country singer to insult the audience, fairly jovially – inviting the Sunday Telegraph critic and his friend to join her for a threesome, even if he (the critic) wasn't exactly Brad Pitt – before declaring that she preferred her own company and digits anyway.
On the brink of a new autumn season, one supposes that Bush director Josie Rourke is flying these kites in order to pin one or two of them more firmly to the wall of her theatre. This in itself is an encouraging statement of intent, and Anthea Williams's lively production suggests future outbreaks of more substantial achievement.
To 15 August (020 8743 5050; www.bushtheatre.co.uk)
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