Stuart Slade’s new play, which has transferred from Theatre 503, imagines the aftermath of a passenger jet shot down over Fulham. Forget the how and why – details given only feed our fears – instead this is a long hard look at the effect of trauma on a personal and national level, as a group of survivors meet for therapy sessions and press reporting of events looms large. Frank monologues addressed to the audience contain a brutal, often startling, humour.
When it comes to thinking about our reaction to big events, Slade’s cynicism is refreshing and the lack of sentiment is a worthwhile corrective. The only patriotism here is sham: an opportunist happy with 15 minutes of fame that Graham O’Mara plays and manages to make intriguing despite objectionable arguments. Nobody really recovers from their trauma, a fact that makes three well-written roles for women (with hugely impressive performances from Florence Roberts, Roxana Lupu and Isabella Laughland) all the more moving. Admissions of selfishness bring us close to them. The language of the corporate meeting and the counselling session are both cleverly manipulated for laughs.
Less successfully are the audience’s motives questioned and our prejudices challenged. Why would we watch this ‘misery-porn’? And do we assume a Muslim character (played by Clive Keene, in fine form) is guilty? Bearing the burden here is Alexander Forsyth’s character, a particular obnoxious banker who breaks the fourth wall, haranguing us for buying a ticket in an appropriately overblown manner. Director Dan Pick obliges the pushy aspects of Slade’s writing with lots of raised lights to make sure there’s nowhere for the audience to hide. But the desire to be confrontational creates unconvincing moments. Too many assumptions are made about the audience and twists don’t have the impact wished for.
A lot of BU21 is tough and the manner harsh. Using laughter as the cure for trauma means the jokes are close to the bone. Such humour is revelled in, in keeping with the confrontational spirit of the piece and, while I can’t imagine this would bother Slade, it approaches a word seldom used – tasteless. But for all the flashiness, the combination of calculated insight with strong characters, impeccably performed, makes this a hot and cold affair that intrigues and stimulates.
Until 18 February 2017
Photo by David Monteith-Hodge