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Posts Tagged ‘Andy Rush’

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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Tom Wells’ The Kitchen Sink at the Bush Theatre was one of my best new plays of 2011 and I will be surprised if this doesn’t end up as one of the best of 2013. He seems to have cornered the market in feel-good, charming, heart-warming, uplifting plays. It’s appropriate that it’s co-produced by Hull Truck as it’s very much in the spirit of their 1980’s work (and indeed in the spirit of Jonathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing, about to get a West End revival).

We’re back in Hull, in a changing room after each of six football matches. It’s a Sunday 5-a-side league comprising just four gay teams and our team, Barely Athletic, are up against The Lesbian Rovers, Man City and Tranny United! Coach / player Viv has been thrown out by the lesbians and is determined to win something, anything; deputy coach / player Danny is using this experience as part of his coaching studies and Viv’s bereaved brother-in-law Joe is the token straight. Busker Beardy can’t decide what to play at his Hull Pride audition and new boy, library assistant Luke, has been recruited by Danny for more than footballing interest.

It’s a bit of a slow start, but once you get to know the characters its captivating. Danny & Luke’s relationship develops, Joe’s grief is exposed, Viv’s competitiveness becomes obsessive and Beardy’s promiscuousness risks team success. Even though you’re only with these people for 90 minutes, you feel like you’ve known them for a whole lot longer; great characterisation. Add to this some very funny lines and deeply human stories to tell, and they play has you under its spell. Watford Palace is a big theatre for such an intimate piece, but Lucy Osborne’s design draws you into the changing room to compensate.

All five actors are excellent. Vivienne Gibbs conveys Viv’s drive, energy and competitiveness, you really feel for Matt Sutton’s Joe and Andy Rush (also superb in The Kitchen Sink) makes Geoff hapless but completely loveable. Jamie Samuel invests real emotional power in Danny and Philip Duguid-McQuillan is simply extraordinary as naive, lonely, socially inept 19-year-old virgin Luke. There is a moment when he reads from his diary when I was laughing out loud and crying at the same time.

Don’t wait until the promised autumn tour – get to Watford to see it in its final week and you’ll probably want to see it again in the autumn. Another triumph for the indispensable Paines Plough.

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The phrase ‘kitchen sink drama’ was coined in the late 50’s / early 60’s to describe plays about working class folk full of angst. Well, there’s not just a sink but an entire kitchen here – but not a lot of angst. This play is a heart-warming tale of the plight of working class people trying to make a living today that is funny and charming, but at its heart deeply perceptive. Like buses, this is my second ‘blue collar’ play on consecutive nights, albeit from two continents, after a long famine!

We’re with a family just outside Hull. Dad Martin’s milk round (and milk float) is struggling to survive now that most people do all their shopping at Tescos. Daughter Sophie and her (boy)friend Pete have lost their jobs at Woolies – Sophie is now training in Jujitsu and Pete as a plumber. Son Billy’s heading for art school after his paintings of heroine Dolly Parton are deemed postmodern kitsch. The family is held together my mum Kath, housewife and part-time lollipop lady. You even get to know offstage characters like Pete’s seemingly wild Nan and friend & advisor Danny and Sophie’s Jujitsu teacher and blue belt examiner.

Staged in the round, we’re peering into the kitchen, the centre of family life, where food is prepared, cooked and eaten, experiences shared and events and feelings communicated. In a lovely touch, scenes often end with the dishes being washed. Time and the change of seasons is cleverly marked and the kitchen sink itself performs regularly. The whole thing is enthralling and captivating; I couldn’t wait to return after the interval and really didn’t want it to end.

The performances are beautifully nuanced, particularly Andy Rush as Pete and Ryan Sampson as Billy. The scene where Pete is trying to make a move on Sophie is an absolute gem and whenever Billy is on stage, you’re watching him. Leah Brotherhead has, in many ways, the toughest role given Sophie’s emotional journey, but she pulls it off brilliantly. It doesn’t take you long to bury Gavin & Stacy’s Dave Coaches as Steffan Rhodri inhabits dad Martin, running away from the reality of change, and at the centre of all of this is a superb performance from Lisa Palfrey as mum Kath. Another night of perfect casting.

Tamara Harvey’s attention to detail results in a staging that draws you in and involves you completely in these people’s lives. The in-the-round setting doesn’t always work (there are occasions when you’d like to see the faces of all parties to a conversation) but it does give the play its intimacy. For the first time, a name check for the stage management team – Mary Hely, Amy Jewell and Sarah Barnes – as this must be a difficult play to run, yet it’s was very slickly done.

This is a triumphant first (proper) play in the new Bush and another candidate for the best new play of 2011.  If you miss it, it will be your own fault!

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