Broken Space Season @ Bush Theatre, London

Sea Wall


Andrew Scott

directed by
George Perrin

St Petersburg


Geoffrey Hutchings
Mairead McKinley

directed by
James Grieve

The Flooded Grave


John Ramm

directed by
Josie Rourke
The Bush Theatre is broken. A series of leaks have left them unable to safely light the auditorium. A major obstacle for any theatre but the Bush’s response is nothing short of ingenious. Throughout October they will stage a series of short plays that make a virtue out of being minimally lit. It is a wonderful idea, and the evening of bite-size plays that results would be a treat in any circumstances.

Though the line up will change across the run, each evening consists of three short plays, the first of which takes place with the windows open to the street as evening gives way to night, the last of which takes place in blackness. The theatre has been stripped back to its shell, with makeshift seating arranged around three sides of the room facing the windows.

The first play of the night is Simon Stephen’s simple but skin-tingling monologue, Sea Wall. There is no set to speak of, just a man standing in a room, regaling the audience with tales of his wife, who he loves very much, his imposing father-in-law, and his adored daughter. He describes their regular trips to France together and the conversations about faith and God he has with his father-in-law; a charmed life in every way. The play, the best of the evening, is compellingly written and performed even before it delivers its killer blow. Andrew Scott is quite, quite brilliant in the role; his performance is natural, charismatic and, when the moment comes, totally devastating.

The centre piece of the triple bill and the longest of the plays is Declan Feenan’s St Petersburg. In this, an elderly man, a retired lorry driver, is visited by his middle aged daughter. She bustles around him, making him lunch, cleaning his flat and checking that he’s taken his pills. It’s well observed and often very funny, with a strong undercurrent of sadness, of past pain and things left unsaid. It’s strongly performed by Geoffrey Hutchings as the father and Mairead McKinley as the daughter, both capably sidestepping the potential stereotypes inherent in their roles. The pools of light cast through the windows give the piece an added poignancy.

Between each of the three pieces the audience are ushered downstairs and when they return for the third and final play of the night, Anthony Weigh‘s The Flooded Grave, the space has been reworked in quite a spectacular fashion. The floor of the theatre has been coated with soil and a square of plastic sits ominously at its centre. The play, a macabre and oddly comic account of an exorcism, is lit only by torchlight. It’s an unsettling, off-centre thing, a tale of a woman’s madness and the response of the religious sect of which she is a member; it’s well performed by John Ramm, but one wonders if it would be quite so effective without the blackness and the twitching torch beam.

Feenan’s St Petersburg will be the constant thread running through the season, but the rest of the line up will change: the twilight slot will also feature work by Bryony Lavery and Neil LaBute and the final, night-shrouded slot will see the Bush staging work by Mike Bartlett, Nancy Harris, Lucy Kirkwood, Ben Schiffer and Jack Thorne. Though born out of necessity, this is a creative and highly exciting way of dealing with a serious technical hitch.

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