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BU21

by on 24 April 2019

In the Midst of Life

BU21

by Stuart Slade

OHADS at Hampton Hill Theatre until 27th April

Review by Eleanor Lewis

Terrorism-related drama is all over the place. A couple of years ago Hampton Hill Theatre staged a production of The Mercy Seat, Neil LaBute’s tale of opportunism in the midst of 9/11. On television The Looming Tower dealing with the run up to the same 9/11, is about to hit BBC 2, and even Radio 4’s daily fifteen-minute drama on Woman’s Hour is currently a story of terrorism. It would be dismissive though to describe BU21 as simply timely, it is an extraordinary piece of writing, adroitly performed by OHADS at Hampton Hill Theatre this week.

BU21 is the flight number of a plane which, at some point in a present day summer, crashes onto London having been hit by a surface to air missile, fired by a terrorist. Unsurprisingly it causes carnage and worryingly carnage is something we in 2019 have begun to get used to. This play however, covers the seismic effect the carnage has on those who live on after it. Writer Stuart Slade assembles six characters in a survivors’ group who meet regularly to try and come to terms with what has happened to them.

“In the midst of life we are in death, from whom can we seek help?” is a quote familiar to many of us but for the three male and three female characters at the survivors’ meeting it’s their reason for being there. Six characters speak occasionally to each other but mostly in monologue whilst at the edge of what any human being can be expected to process. Each individual story is both unpredictable and totally plausible.

BU21Promo2

It’s a credit to this production that no acting performance was stronger than any other, all six actors inhabited their characters with clarity, integrity and considerable skill. Amy Hope and Stephanie Von Weira as two young women forced to react to equally shocking events, moved on from them in different directions but took their audience with them all the way in what passed for decision-making when so much of their essence as human beings was compromised. Emily Moss as the terribly burnt crash victim was brave and tragic in equal measure and provided pause for thought on the idea of ‘not letting them beat you’. How much of a sacrifice does that actually involve, and is it worth it?

Charlie Golding as the chirpy London builder caught by the media while rushing to help and thereby launched into his fifteen minutes of fame, was a character with a story which initially sparked a judgemental view and then snatched that away. Hadrian Howard played the one darker-skinned character in the group, this single feature bringing him yet more issues than usual including the simple task of travelling on the tube with a rucksack in the wake of a terrorist attack. His character’s storyline seemed contrived at first but was actually no less believable than the fact of a plane falling suddenly from the sky onto the people below, and the level of his performance left little room for any scepticism.

BU21Promo1

Gwithian Evans, was recognisably insufferable and very clever as banker Greg, shouting through the fourth wall to challenge the audience as to why they had come to gawp at these people. Greg took what he could from the attack and ultimately developed his own detached mantra for surviving anything (and feeling nothing). He retained a surprising amount of heavily disguised humanity nonetheless, his being another story that could not be predicted. In other hands this character might have been allowed to dominate at the expense of the others but the restraint applied by both director and actor to this role was completely appropriate.

OHADS have excelled themselves in this production, director Dane Hardie has produced a haunting, powerful piece of theatre which strikes precisely the right tone. There was no sentimentality, no smoothing over or avoiding the unpalatable, there were no pauses for effect because none was needed. Michael Bishop’s gentle lighting and Fintan Davies’ unobtrusive but complimentary sound were absolutely right. Similarly the set by Jenna Powell and Lizzie Lattimore, a black stage with the half-tidied debris of a major catastrophe swept into corners, was a visual image of the detritus of our lives and a poignant reminder of all it will amount to in the end.

Despite the dark subject matter this isn’t a piece without humour, because generally human beings aren’t without humour, particularly in adversity and there are several laugh out loud moments (I particularly liked the Stephen Hawking moments). An impressive amount of thought, care and sensitivity went into this production. And whilst it’s probably necessary to say that this won’t suit those who have issues with language (there is a great deal of swearing), and the subject matter is graphic, this is a very well-produced, well-acted, engaging and intelligent piece of drama and this reviewer can only highly recommend it, and OHADS.

Eleanor Lewis
April 2019

Photography courtesy  of OHADS

From → Drama, Reviews

One Comment
  1. Hi Eleanor

    Thank you so much for this review! I was the sound designer and operator of the show. The whole team were very moved by it.

    I just want to ask if you would be ok with me quoting your review on my website? (https://www.fintandaviessound.com/) I’ll make sure to give you credit for the review.

    Kind Regards

    Fintan

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