Keith Bunin’s The Busy World is Hushed takes aim at the motivations behind the faith of individuals, which here means questioning what, exactly, ties us to where we happen to be, what it is that ties us to this life. The fraught relationship between a religious mother and a son constantly testing himself is used by Bunin to explore the different manifestations of fervour in our lives, and the result, directed in its European premier at the Finborough Theatre by Paul Higgins, is a piece full of compassion.
Marco Turich’s set design and Matt Cater’s lighting is perfect for the Finborough’s confines, well suiting the intimacy of the play’s action and how plausible the story remains: the time of day hinted at through the stained-glass windows at the back of the stage subtly influences each scene, and the space truly felt like the disorganised office of a theologian.
We see the characters negotiate their attitudes to loss with the possibility of God’s existence in disparate, often conflicting ways. Hannah, an episcopal priest writing a book on a newly discovered gospel, is played by Kazia Pelka giving us impressive emotion, though she has to wade through a slightly shaky American accent for it. She’s the kind of lively yet constant presence you’d want your own priest to have. No character is allowed to dominate to the others’ detriment: Mateo Oxley (with a face like an earnest vole) as Hannah’s ghostwriter Brandt and Michael James as her son Thomas bring strong moments and unfailing energy to their roles.
Any difficulties I had connecting with this play are certainly not down to Higgins’ direction nor the acting, all of which was sharp and assured. Bunin’s script, well-written and fast-paced, throws up the same challenges for a production as a Stoppard play: when something is this polished, and every character speaks slightly too eloquently for it to be real, the actors have to be careful to allow some lines to breathe, to let natural pauses come up, or else the entire thing seems too rehearsed and artificial. I believed everything I saw, but the direction Bunin goes in to end The Busy World is Hushed was one I’d rather he had subverted. I didn’t want this rather predictable conclusion for the love we’d seen growing between the characters, and though the play doesn’t end devoid of hope at all, I wanted something more. Nevertheless, this is altogether a fine production, which does both the Finborough and the playwright justice.
The Busy World Is Hushed is playing at Finborough Theatre until the 31st October. For more information and tickets, see www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk/productions/2017/the-busy-world-is-hushed.php