The Bush Theatre has now moved into its new home in the old Victorian library on the Uxbridge Road, and is brilliantly breaking us in with a "soft opening" of three short plays with audience participation in the intervals.
Taking part means saying what you think of the place, writing on Post-its (my favourite, in the men's loo: "I want to live in your bush"), filling in questionnaires, hanging out in the wonderful new bar area and library lounge, inspecting the offices and rehearsal rooms.
It's a great new facility, the ground-floor theatre an adaptable big square room which we see used with the audience on three sides for Deirdre Kinahan's The Fingers of Faversham; in-the-round for Tom Wells's Fossils; and with an end-stage for Jack Thorne's Red Car, Blue Car.
The evening has been constructed like an elaborate party game. Nine properties were selected from the National Theatre's stock, including a necklace of fingers, a basketball, a large strawberry and a pair of rabbits.
Six stage directions each were requested from Michael Grandage, Alan Ayckbourn and Bush director Josie Rourke. The plays were written, and associate director Tamara Harvey set to work with six top actors: Francesca Annis, Debbie Chazen, Nina Sosanya, Hugo Speer, Hugh Skinner and Richard Cordery.
The results are totally in tune with the informal, celebratory nature of the event, the sets comprising the nine props and a pile of cardboard boxes. In Fingers, an amateur drama group's Wind in the Willows is given a radical make-over by an intense director, involving group massage, spanking and suicide.
Fossils is a touching encounter between two old friends who've lost their chance of love (Francesca Annis and Richard Cordery). And Red Car ups the ante in more typical Bush Theatre style, with an intense, heartbreaking overlap in the parallel stories of a garage man and a bereaved mother (Hugo Speer and Nina Sosanya).
Former Bush director Mike Bradwell supplied an additional stage direction for the last piece: "She does something she's never done before. She does it again." Our expectations are painfully overturned. There's a lovely Stoppardian playfulness to it all; the audience audibly exhaled their pleasure at the plays, and the place.
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