BWW Review: WHILE WE'RE HERE, Bush Theatre

BWW Review: WHILE WE'RE HERE, Bush Theatre

BWW Review: WHILE WE'RE HERE, Bush TheatreThe inaugural production in the refurbished Bush Theatre's new studio space is the latest play from Barney Norris. Directed by Alice Hamilton, it's a searching exploration of loneliness and reunion set against a sympathetically drawn south-of-England backdrop.

Former lovers Carol (Tessa Peake-Jones) and Eddie (Andrew French) reunite after having lived worlds apart: one is an abandoned wife and mother, the other forced to live rough. The two bring their own experiences into question after Carol's generous offer to put Eddie up for a while after meeting him on a bench.

What follows is a journey composed of catching up and fighting off unwanted feelings, with plunges into the meaning of life and what it takes to stay alive. The two characters struggle to understand each other's experiences: Carol's relatively comfortable life - with a stable job and her own family house - doesn't fully resonate with Eddie's. While he's been unable to settle down, whether because of financial instability or other issues, Carol wound up inheriting and becoming trapped in a certain lifestyle.

The work's setting plays a huge part in the show, especially when it comes to Carol. Her experience is a window into a small-town existence clouded by gossip, routine and sheer Britishness. She is defined by what she's always been surrounded by: her co-workers and the town's buzz.

Carol comes to terms with what seems like a hurricane ready to unsettle her otherwise very tedious life, in a house that hasn't changed much since she moved in when she was younger and which is now empty, showing the signs of a failed marriage and a grown-up child. Eddie, with his hyperactive tendencies and constant movements, becomes a mission for her.

She's clearly fond of him, even though the fear of taking a step further in their relationship makes her freeze up. Their feelings are mutual, though its implied he may also have other - possible subconscious - motivations, taking advantage of her good heart (and boredom) to better his situation.

Norris' script is lively and witty, though overemphasised by the actors at times, mainly in French's portrayal of the excitable man-child with underlying mental health issues, but his rare sombre moments are reflective and grounded, lending his character depth.

The playwright's acute British humour enriches an otherwise quite static narrative. The pacing and comedic timing of both actors is finely tuned, with Peake Jones's delivery of the sharp-witted lines making her the star of the show.

The soundscape, curated by Dom Coyote, plays an essential role in strengthening the setting, and also highlights poignant moments. Original music composed by Coyote is mixed with sounds of waves and other ambient noises, creating a strange and very specific atmosphere.

James Perkins's design is effectively realistic, re-creating a middle-class domestic environment that speaks of comfort and reliability, with pictures hanging on the wall (family photos at the beach emphasising the sense of place), but also the static dullness of Carol's life, with furniture in studiously neutral tones.

Under Hamilton's sensitive direction, Norris tells a tale of seeming simplicity and ordinariness with deeper considerations about humanity and the perils of our life choices.

While We're Here runs at Bush Theatre until 27 May.

Photo credit: Mark Douet.

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From This Author Cindy Marcolina

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