At the beginning of 2017, a play that addresses the suicide bombings, mass shootings, political upheavals, and war crimes that plague our daily news feeds (as well as our tendency to tune in spite of, or because of, these) is perhaps not high on many people’s ‘To-Watch’ lists. But one such as BU21, that so adeptly scrutinises and humanises the fallout of these events, and manages (with inexplicable ease) to make us laugh during, is certainly one not to be missed.
A passenger jet has been shot down over London and devastated a large area of Fulham, as well as hundreds of thousands of lives. But rather than focussing on the politics, division, and motives behind the act, now known as ‘22/7’, we bear witness to the ripple effects on the everyday – the opinions, stigma, loneliness, fears and love – left in its wake; as six Londoners, members of a PTSD support group, seek solace in narcotics, sex, faith, fear, power and, ultimately, each other.
Writer Stuart Slade interweaves six unnervingly personal narratives with deft adroitness, as BU21 acts as our window into six walks of life trying to come to terms with disaster. At times, hilarious, and at others, harrowing, it manages to expertly maintain a disquieting sense of voyeurism with the audience forced to take the role of ‘ghoulish’ rubberneckers. Parallels will be drawn with Simon Stephen’s Pornography as Slade pulls back the thin membrane of luck and chance that separates us from the victims of tragedy.
Dan Pick’s direction is a perfect example of letting a piece speak for itself. There is a wonderful sense of free-reign underlying the basic physical play, and the naturalism breathes real life into the characters. As a result of this the production is imbued with an unrelenting energy and zips along, preserving its episodic structure but remaining fluid throughout. Only very rarely do the pace and drive dip, low energy sometimes being mistaken for intimacy. But these fleeting moments are exactly that, fleeting, and buoyed by some standout performances.
The cast of six are a formidable ensemble – young, intrepid, and fierce, undoubtedly names of the future. Highlights among them include Alexander Forsyth whose Alex exudes all the cocksure insecurities of an alpha-male, inner-city suit, flooding the play with painful, hate-yourself-for-laughing humour. But his relationship with the traumatised Izzy, expertly brought to life by Isabella Laughland, explores incredible and poignant depths through their sexual politics, and the resulting cathartic balance. Elsewhere, Roxana Lupu movingly tiptoes the many facets of survivor’s guilt, as Ana and Clive Keene’s Clive comes to terms with why some relationships end and others begin.
BU21 has been revived by Trafalgar Studios after an initial run at Theatre 503 and rightfully so. Here is a play that doesn’t just make you think. It forces you to. It hammers its message home without ever once seeming intrusive. In fact, it is the audience who are the real intruders here tonight, getting a glimpse into the personal, human side of stories that are too often desensitised once reduced to a TV interview or an online news column. BU21 resonates with where we are and who we are; bold, slick and profound, and a brilliant start to 2017.
BU21 is playing Trafalgar Studios until 18th February. For more information and tickets, see the ATG website.
Photo by David Monteith-Hodge