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Posts Tagged ‘Amy Cook’

I’m still not sure how playwright Sam Steiner’s play about troubled souls in a bleak world turned out to be so hopeful, but it was warm hearted and funny, despite the backdrop of a crumbling planet.

It’s set in the office of Brightline, a helpline manned by four volunteers; think The Samaritans. We know the world in which they live is bleak because they arrive with breathing masks, and we can see and hear dramatic climatic events going on outside. They listen to those who call in, and have to deal with those who abuse them. We hear their personal stories too. Heavily pregnant team leader Frances, soon to bring a newcomer into this hostile world, Jon in a troubled relationship, work experience student Joey trying to make his way in this world, and lonely Ange on an emotional roller-coaster.

There’s much humour, but it doesn’t swamp or trivialise either the personal stories or the world events. There are a lot of scenes, which do make it feel a bit staccato at times, but the character development is very good, and the interweaving of the big picture backdrop with the helpline setting and the personal lives works well. It really draws you in, as you find yourself interested in, and empathising with, these people.

Amy Cook’s excellent design manages to feel both huge and intimate, with perfect sight-lines everywhere, and the invasion of the outside into the inside is really well done. Jenni Maitland is superb as the eternally positive, very motherly Frances. Andy Rush plays Jon very well, a more complex character, cynical, suspicious, a touch brittle. Lydia Larson is lovely as chatterbox Ange, a bit neurotic and fragile. Andrew Finnigan, so so good in one-man musical Drip at the Bush, gives another charming performance as 17-year-old Joey, initially seeming naive but proving to be wise beyond his years.

Director James Grieve brings this all together to create a surprisingly feel-good cocktail of big issues and personal tales, which got a rare spontaneous standing ovation on the night I went. Paines Plough on fine form again.

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When I heard that the Bush Theatre was on the move, my heart sank. I’ve been going to that room above a pub in Shepherd’s Bush for nigh on 30 years and have lost track of how many plays I’ve seen there (somewhere between 100 and 200 I’d think) with a ‘hit rate’ that is second to none. Other theatre moves, notably Hampstead, have resulted in a loss of magic associated with the space and I found the thought that this might also happen with the Bush positively devastating.

So it was with some trepidation that I went to this playful exploration of the yet-to-be-finished new space in an old library round the corner, where three short plays in three configurations (thrust, in-the-round and end on staging) using nine props from the NT’s store are coupled with wanders around the building, giving feedback on how you’d like it to be. It’s a terrific idea and it was brilliantly executed (helped by an unplanned evacuation between the first two plays for the fire brigade to deal with an exploding light!). It has, for now, put my mind to rest, though my fingers remain crossed.

The first play was the most successful for me as it fitted so well with the concept. Deidre Kinahan’s piece shows a theatre company rehearsing a PC adaptation of Wind in the Willows and the resulting theatrical send-up seemed so appropriate. One of the contrivances is to ask three directorial luminaries to provide stage directions, and Alan Ayckbourn’s for Tom Wells play seem longer than the play itself, which may be why it was less successful. Jack Thorne’s piece was the best written, but coming last and being far from playful, it somehow didn’t have the impact it might have done in other circumstances; maybe he  should work it up for a proper production.

They’ve attracted some great actors to participate in the experiment, with Nina Sosanya shining both as the first play’s play-within-a-play director and a more tragic and moving role in the final piece. I liked Francesca Annis as the old school theatrical in the first play more than as dotty Helen in the second play. Richard Cordery, Hugo Speer, Debbie Chasen and Hugh Skinner complete the excellent cast. Nathan Curry, with designers Amy Cook & Lucy Osborne, has done a terrific job of covering the building with fun-filled opportunities for the audience to explore and comment on everything from desired seating to programming to the bar. I loved the fact that the playing space had been wallpapered with scripts of previous Bush shows, reminding us of tis illustrious past.

This wasn’t great theatre (I don’t think it was meant to be), but it was a great experience and has moved me from dread to cautious anticipation of my old friend’s new home!

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