Crooked @ Bush Theatre, London

cast list
Debbie Chazen
Amanda Hale
Suzan Sylvester

directed by
Mike Bradwell
In a nation where disgruntled kids with axes to grind tend to gun down their class mates as pay back, Crooked, Mike Bradwell’s 10th anniversary production as artistic director at the Bush, looks at the tactic more commonly used by teenagers to get them through their angst: lying.

Gloriously funny, Catherine Trieschmann’s Crooked, pokes fun at America’s Bible belt but also takes on serious issues of religion, mental health and Sapphic sexual awakening by exploring the unusual friendship between new girl in town, Laney and born-again Christian, Mirabel.

Moving from Wisconsin, 14-year-old Laney, arrives in Mississippi, nursing dreams of being a writer with a catalogue of self penned stories in her rucksack. Hunch-backed and gifted she is destined to be the high school pariah, until she meets the super-sized, Maribel.

It is desperation to keep this one friend that entices Laney to merge fact with fiction and spread a little story-telling into her own life, an error which eventually brings her self-made charades crashing in on top of her.

Amanda Hale excels as Laney, the precocious, wanna-be writer. Hale really gets under the skin of her teenage character and expertly inhabits the body of this gawky, troubled little girl, bringing a keenness and coyness, to Laney’s precociousness that makes her earnest and endearing rather than tiresome.

Debbie Chazen is superb as Maribel, the excitable but bovine preacher’s daughter, plagued by ‘invisible stigmata’ who tries to convert Laney to The Holiness Church of the Redeemer. Chazen, plays this loveable lard arse, with a sweetness and naivety and has a radiant chubbiness and comedic talent that earmark her as the Dawn French of her generation.

Chazen and Hale really buzz of each other, and the moments of schoolgirl hysteria between Laney and Mirabel, whether they are getting drunk on the couch or swearing in church, are fully capture the uncontrollable silliness unique to teenagers.

Suzan Sylvester is also excellent as Laney’s hip, unflappable mum, who won’t be kept in thrall to her daughter’s supposed evangelical conversion or flirt with lesbianism. Stolid and pragmatic, she deals in tough love and the exchange between her and Laney when Laney announces – after her furtive peck with Mirabel in the church sanctuary, that she is a Holiness Lesbian who “believes in the power of the Holy Ghost and I kiss girls,” is utterly priceless.

It is via droplets of information throughout the play that you gauge just how severely mentally ill Laney’s dad is, and just what an effect his schizophrenia has had on her perception of herself and how her lies, help her to keep at least as small part of her world exactly the way she would like it, even if only temporarily. Inevitably these mis-truths and the fear of her father’s illness catch up with her and lead to her powerful final scene freak-out.

Trieschmann has a keen ear for dialogue and a real awareness of how teenagers are, how they speak, and under the expert direction of Bradwell Crooked comes together to create a beautifully crafted bitter sweet coming of age drama.

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