Bottle Universe by Simon Burt – The Bush Theatre

4
Discovering the 'fun' in dysfunctional.
By Gene - 21st Oct 2005
Simon Burt’s play deals with the perennial problem of teenage angst alongside peer pressure and the dysfunctional family – NOT AGAIN we all cry! Well, thankfully, yes, again. But this time with a verve and turn of phrase that keeps the action and progression of the story active in every sense of the word. The worlds of David (Mikey North) and Lauren (Jessica Harris) collide when they share a detention with the ever-helpful but equally dysfunctional Mr Richmond (Jeff Rawle). Once met, the two teenagers embark on a journey of self-discovery; dealing with those new feelings one gets in the pre-pubescent crossroads of life. Their story is not new, as I have said, but it has a freshness and modernity to it that makes it very interesting and supremely engaging. This is not only down to the skill of the actors, but also the keen eye and ear for detail from director Sue Dunderdale. There is never a trick missed here in this well-observed ‘rack of life’ the characters hang upon, as they claw their way through a new birth approaching adulthood. Never belonging anywhere, Sue Dunderdale negotiates the action through heartbreak to 'brokers men' comedy. All this is set against an amazing backdrop of waste and reclaimed junk to create the 'Stig in the Dump' world we all remember as children. This is the world in which the teenagers feel safe and it is from this world that the rest of their life is in question. An extraordinary and sculptural design by Bob Baily, this multi-functional and multi-location set is the playground and play-frame on which this tormented tale is sited. An inspired design sparing us the cliché of seven locations with a token gestures of location – at The Bush or in the Tate Modern – yes I am a huge fan of this inventive use of space and expression. Jessica Harris is stunning as the suicidal Lauren; a deftness in tiny expression, Harris is so convincing as the bullied misfit, there were times when it was too real: if that is possible? Mikey North as David gave a whirl-wind performance that would be hard to stop – this spinning-top launched into the action and did not stop. His energy and Gestus was admirably sustained; creating a multi-emotional David that tore at the heart strings and made me want to smack him – remarkable. The two teenagers were in the dubious control of Mr Richmond played by Jeff Rawle who gave a studied and thankless performance. I mean that is the most positive way. The character of the teacher could never win in all he tried to do and Rawle conveyed this with consummate ease in the way he misread time and time again the needs and wants of his wards. On the tiniest of notes – the production became a bit 'shouty' when I saw it. Richmond and David could have found more colour in their scenes by using the painful silence of an argument rather than blasting everything out at full pelt – shape in volume could have matched the sculptured design of the set and the script a little more. This is a powerful piece of theatre. For two hours your ears will be bombarded with the teenage cries for help in their search for acceptance and understanding. A keen observation on the playground war and social exclusion; peppered with fine humour and first class acting. It really is another success for The Bush.

Gene David Kirk


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