Friday, 8 July 2011

Oh sit down, oh sit down...

"Well. That was special," said NewMan as we descended the front steps of the new Bush Theatre last Friday evening.

"It really was, wasn't it?!" I declared, squeezing his hand, feeling all inspired, feeling all... "life is a stage dah-ling!".

"No I mean, it was a bit "special", as in, I didn't really get it." NewMan cautiously admitted.



"You're dumped."

Well no, that's not quite what happened but I do think sadly the beauty, charm and genius of the Bush Theatre's production, Where's My Seat? was partially missed on poor NewMan. In some ways I can't blame him really. The last play we saw together was James Corden's career-saving "One Man, Two Guv'nors" at the National Theatre, which was the best slick slapstick comedy I've seen in years. Slick and slapstick were two things that Where's My Seat? was not, but it was never intended to be. And thank goodness!

In actual fact it was intended as a multitude of experiments. Three plays in three different layouts to test out their newly acquired space in the building which used to house Shepherd's Bush library. Those lucky enough to get tickets (which were free or reduced for locals) saw that they have literally stripped the inside of the building and rather than start creating a space "they" want, they used this production as an opportunity to design a space "we" want; we as in them and us; me and you. If I hadn't already been convinced of Bush Theatre's commitment to the local community, it was there that night written all over the walls; "Should we knock this pillar down?" "Are we selling the right things at our bar?" "How can we improve the toilets?". And by the side of each question were spiderwebs of scrawled feedback; "No! I like this pillar,", "I like the olives, keep the olives!" "More than two loos for Ladies needed!"

The production itself was just as experimental, with each one of three overly-qualified icons of the theatre world  (namely Michael Grandage, Alan Ayckbourn and Bush Theatre's own Josie Rourke) each having provided obligatory stage directions for one of the three plays, which were written accordingly(ish) by three well established Bush playwrights "Deirdre Kinahan, Tom Thorne and Jack Wells. It didn't end there. Each director and playwright and all the actors then had to work around incorporating nine random props (a "necklace of fingers" was the most odd) borrowed from the National Theatre. And so it began...

"Thrust" staging

"In the round"

Traditional staging

I won't bore you with plots and my predictably lame attempt to psycho-analyse any subtext in the staging, words or acting, but they were three very different plays. The first was a piss-take of "ack-torrs" using Wind in the Willows, the second was a tender but almost Sci-Fi imaginative "love too late" story and the third was a disjointedly written, raw and emotional story about a fatal car crash. I laughed at the first, felt my heart melt a bit in the second and then felt both uncomfortable yet moved during the third. (Interestingly I thought NewMan would love the first but not "get" the other two. Instead he found the first "not that funny", liked the second and thought the third one "the best".) The acting was exceptional, which was in many ways to be expected when the cast included Francesca Annis, Hugo Speer and Nina Sosanya. I've never felt so involved and close to a cast before. Intimacy between audience and cast was something that was so special about their old space so it's very pleasing that it can also be found in their new home.

We were also invited to get up, close and personal to the backstage and upstairs rehearsing areas of the new Bush Theatre during the second of two intervals. I tagged along with an enthusiastic group of people who I couldn't help but think looked more "Theatre" than "Bush". In the meantime a hungry and much less nosey NewMan bought more olives and beer and got comfortable in the seating area which boasts an impressive corner of plays in print. Bush Theatre have openly said that they want this space along with their cafe/bar to be used throughout the day, not just during show intervals. Even though many changes are yet to come I can't think of a better place I'd like to relax with a coffee and delve through their plays reliving memories of my Theatre Studies A-Level course (oh yes, I was one of those Am-Dram teenagers dah-ling!).

As I type this up and look at the photos again I am curious and very excited to see how the Bush Theatre looks when it "properly" moves it to its new space. I genuinely believe they will take into account all the feedback that has been left on the walls of their charming new home. I also hope they don't "polish" it too much. This is Shepherd's Bush after all, dah-ling.

And seeing this in the flesh, or in the felt tip, was very lovely.

(NewMan: "When did you become a friend of Wormholt Park?")

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