Like a Fishbone @ Bush Theatre, London

cast includes
Deborah Findlay, Sarah Smart, Phoebe Waller-Bridge

directed by
Josie Rourke

Anthony Weighs second play, Like a Fishbone, is subtitled An argument and an architectural model, but while it does indeed contain the latter an architectural model forms the centre of the set the former is more elusive; its difficult to know just what the plays argument is.

Like a Fishbone depicts an encounter between a renowned architect and a grieving mother. The architect has been commissioned to create a memorial for a small town that has suffered a tragedy: the massacre of a group of school children in a remote rural village by a crazed gunman.

The Architect has decided to retain the schoolhouse just as it was, with every upset chair and dropped textbook untouched. The Mother argues that this is meaningless; she would rather the building was razed to the ground.

At the heart of the play lies a discussion about the nature of architecture, over what it can and should be, whether it should be purely functional or seek greater significance. This discussion gradually grows branch upon branch, touching on faith, parenting and mourning, the things we create to help us remember. At times the bones of the play bring to mind TEAMs recent piece, Architecting, only this time minus the exuberance and hoop skirts.

The performances are solid, but both of these women are somehow less than characters they are mouthpieces for intentionally opposing views, outlines only sketchily filled in. The architect is a hard-edged professional, conveniently atheistic and blinkered by her belief in her project. The mother is dowdy and rumpled, equally conveniently partially sighted and driven by her religious faith and her insistance that her dead daughter deserves better.

The actors do a decent job with limited material. Deborah Findlay is appropriately stately and severe as the Architect yet she manages to on occasion inject a hint of warmth and even vulnerability into the role. Sarah Smart is also fine as the Mother, calm and consoled by faith, but her character feels, if anything, even more contrived and unknowable. She becomes increasingly fervent in her pronouncements to the point where it threatens to derail the balance of the play in a way that was perhaps unintended; her unshakeable faith comes across as a symptom of someone losing their grip. It is left to Phoebe Waller-Bridge, as a stylish but gauche young intern, to add some necessary humour. Though hers is the smallest of three roles she succeeds in making her character feel like a person instead of a collection of ideas.

Director Josie Rourke’s clean, pared down production does provide a note of tension between the two women but she cant keep the play from being sabotaged by its own symbolism. Weighs previous play for the Bush, 2,000 Feet Away, was an ambitious and intelligent if ultimately rather self-conscious examination of a community’s response to the threat of paedophilia; this follow-up lacks its heft and wit and feels more like a sketch, a blueprint, than a finished piece.

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