BU21 – Trafalgar Studios, London

Writer: Stuart Slade
Director: Dan Pick
Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

If the subject and execution doesn’t get you, the direct challenge to the audience will.

The play uses a fictitious terrorist attack on London (a guided missile bringing flight BU21 down onto residential Fulham) and a support group set up for survivors as its core. Through this, we meet the characters, peer into their shattered worlds and explore the micro-level consequences of a globally significant act of violence.

tell-us-block_editedThree main elements interplay to make an impact here. The script is packed with dark and guiltily pleasurable jokes about some of the more horrendous results of a plane crash on dense population (the support group is a “maimed version of Friends”). After a somewhat shaky start to introduce everyone, the characters go from sketch to depth quickly – it’s a massive credit to writer, director and the actors that each can be so different but have the common thread that binds them shine so clear.

The third key element (disregarding momentarily the actual content of the play, the touches of politics and class commentary) is having these characters speak to the audience. Thankfully they don’t go full on “audience participation time” but it’s enough. Accusations of voyeurism, of a perversion towards misery porn and reminding us that we’re so ghoulish as to want to see a play about the most violent and painful day in these characters lives is a blunt enough weapon to hit the crowd with. It’s provocative and effective sure. Where it slices incisively into the collective heart is in the plaintiveness and underlying desperate appeal for someone to listen and understand, someone to recognise the effect this attack had on them personally.

Framed by a harsh soundscape (Owen Crouch) and disorientating, energetic lighting (Christopher Nairne) the set by Alex Doidge-Green is grim and sparse. Rubble piles, stackable meeting-hall chairs and hints of destruction of more than the built environment – a severed mickey mouse head is oddly poignant after watching the characters break down and get somewhat rebuilt over the 100-minute play length.

Keeping the politics to a minimum, though exploring different angles (including one character blaming lax immigration policy for allowing the terrorists to come in to London), and using short, sharp cuts rather than broad hacks, Stuart Slade has crafted a witty, dark, tragic but optimistic work. The material is brought to life with vivacious performances from all, though Alex Forsyth (as Alex) and Clive Keene (as Clive) draw attention with a yin and yang of respectively bombastic and understated charisma.

Thankfully not making too much of a big deal of the traditional indomitable Londoner spirit, the play is identifiably local but feels universal. Seems there’s a rare quality of actual human insight here rather than just snappy writing.

Runs until 31 January 2017 | Image: David Monteith-Hodge




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