THEATRE / The last resort: Bad Company - The Bush

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The Independent Culture
There's not much fair about the Scarborough in Bad Company. Simon Bent's grim seafront comedy is set at the end of the season, when the cafes are getting ready to close for the winter, and the tourist population is thinning out. In Jane Barwell's design, with its intimations of golden sands and open blue skies spreading to limitless horizons, this Scarborough feels less like a resort than a desert island where the cast of disaffected local youth has been washed up, and they don't expect to be rescued.

Ian - a local boy who's been to college - says that in the future our times will look like the Stone Age; but that's pretty much how they look already. The play is located in the present - for relaxation, everybody watches the hotel sliding down the cliff - but there's a sense that real time is irrelevant, that the rituals of aggression, courtship and bonding that they engage in hark back to something more primitive, less ephemeral.

It's an enclosed, cut-off society, where Paul is considered exotic because he's been down to London (Ian's college days only mark him out as snobby and odd). Down South is another country. People down there, according to Nicky, the local nutter, are all miserable: 'We're different up here. We stick together. One fights, we all fight.'

And they do fight. Frustration is endemic and the lads and lasses - all equipped here with superbly maintained flat, drawn-out Yorkshire vowels - distract themselves with sex and internecine warfare, miniature dramas played out against a complicated web of synthetic kinship and old rivalries. Being such a small community, though, they can't afford to let anything go too far, so nothing is ever resolved - the sex always gets interrupted, the violence is somehow faint-hearted.

Bent hasn't managed to solve the problem of where you take a play that deals with futility and emptiness, so that you leave the theatre with a slight sense that it hasn't added up to much. It's a flaw, too, that such plot as there is - revolving around the fact that Paul's exotic air is to do with something a little more significant than a trip to London - telegraphs its revelations a bit obviously.

What lifts the play out of the ordinary is Bent's flair for a dialogue that is both a literal transcription of ordinary speech and very, very funny. As with the fight scenes, you feel that the unintentional humour makes it more, rather than less, realistic. When the jaded, tarty Shirley rebuffs Paul's (entirely welcome) advances with the traditional 'I bet you say that to all the girls', his thick friend Billy butts in: 'He said it to Rosemary Tredwell last week' - a remark that's both wittily apposite and wholly in character.

Quotation doesn't do Paul Miller's slick production anything approaching justice, because much of the enjoyment derives from the perfectly banal delivery of an excellent cast. Scarborough's Chamber of Commerce won't find much to laugh at here; anybody else will have a fine time.

Runs to 5 March at The Bush (081-743 3388).

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