The Bush Theatre’s new season has started off with a blast – Javaad Alipoor’s The Believers Are But Brothers was a brilliant and totally unique piece, and now their current show The B*easts is a compelling exploration of modern-day parenting and the sexualisation of children. Written and brilliantly performed by Monica Dolan, it is engaging and uncomfortably relevant to contemporary culture.
Therapist Tessa (Dolan) is working on a case about Karen, a mother who allowed her daughter Leila to have breast implants at aged 8. Tessa explains that the girl showed an interest in wanting breasts from 3 years old, constantly clutching at her mum’s fashion magazines, pointing at the women. As Leila grew up, her wish grew stronger, and finally, her mum decided to give her daughter what she wanted. When people found out, Leila was taken into care and her mother was arrested. Now it’s up to Tessa to asses Karen, but trying to figure out who is to blame for the sequence of events is not very black and white.
Photo: Alan Harris
The story is captivating, and with every dark new detail, you yearn for more, which Dolan delivers perfectly. Her performance is mesmerising, keeping the audience hooked on her every word. James Button’s design keeps her at the centre of the stage, the perfect position for the storyteller to maintain attention easily throughout the monologue, which feels completely effortless for Dolan.
There is no clear conclusion in the end, just the disturbing fact that even though the details in Dolan’s story are very extreme and heightened, we are heading towards a society where the extreme is becoming normal. The B*easts makes you question society’s obsession with policing women’s bodies, overly sexualising women, and how this actually affects children and young people. With a fantastic story full of sinister truths and dark humour, and an exceptional performance from Dolan, The B*easts is unmissable.
The B*easts is at the Bush Theatre until 3rd March.
Written by Chris Thompson, Of Kith and Kin is a compelling piece of new writing exploring issues surrounding surrogacy and relationships. With elements of humour weaved into dark themes, and some genuinely terrific performances, the show is an engaging way to delve into a challenging subject.
Oliver (Joshua Silver) and Daniel (James Lance) are having a baby with the help of their surrogate Priya (Chetna Pandya). The couple is smitten with each other and excited for the arrival of their new baby. But when Daniel’s mum (Joanna Bacon) crashes their baby shower, Oliver isn’t pleased with their uninvited guest, the small problems in their relationship rise to the surface. And when Daniel becomes physical with Oliver, Priya starts to think differently about the couple, and their new baby.
Lance commands the stage with ease, giving a very strong performance as the tenacious, and sometimes scary, Daniel. As his husband, Silver’s youthful Oliver is likeable at the start, but it quickly becomes apparent that he too has some dark and unpleasant traits. Both actors compliment each other well on stage.
Pandya’s Priya is sassy and sensitive and is heartbreaking to watch in the final scene. Donna Berlin as the judge is eloquent in her performance, but sometimes her lines feel awkward. This is especially apparent when she makes an uncomfortably placed joke, which feels slightly odd and uncharacteristic of an authority figure.
Bacon stands out the most as Daniel’s mum Carrie and draws out genuine laughter from the audiences as soon as she opens her mouth. At times her character is cringe-worthy and obnoxious, but you can’t help but delight in how she bursts onto the stage. Bacon also doubles as Priya’s solicitor Joanna, a role that comes across as more articulate and composed than the hot-headed Carrie, but with an equally powerful presence on stage. She is a delight to watch.
Thompson’s own experiences as a social worker have undoubtedly affected the story, and the emotions evoked in his text feel very raw. With Robert Hastie’s direction, the play is brought to life with incredible energy, each scene slowly building up to a dynamic event. Full of unexpected turns and character traits that come as a surprise, Of Kith and Kin is an enjoyable play that shines a light on contemporary, real-life domestic issues, and the sacrifices people make for loved ones.
Of Kith and Kin is at the Bush Theatre 25th November.
The newly re-developed Bush Theatre building boasts a more sustainable and a completely accessible space. The revamped theatre now has an additional studio space and an attic rehearsal room, allowing for more work to be produced. Rajiv Joseph’s Guards at the Taj is the new building’s first show, and a great choice to open the renovated space. With brilliant humour, dark themes and two strong performers, the play is a superb imagining of the myths surrounding Shah Jahan and the Taj Mahal, and a wonderful performance.
Best friends Humayun (Danny Ashok) and Babur (Darren Kuppan) are guarding the Taj Mahal. It’s been 16 years in the making, and finally, it’s almost complete. But the emperor has declared that no one, apart from those in charge of building it, shall look at the Taj until it is finished. Babur desperately wants to sneak a glance of the most beautiful monument in the world, but Humayun is apprehensive. After all, going against the emperor has terrible consequences, which the guards soon find out.
Soutra Gilmour’s dark and ominous bare set serves as a perfect canvas to Ashok and Kuppan’s performances, who deliver the task of bringing to life Joseph’s India extremely well. Kuppan is loveable as Babur, constantly making fun of Humayun’s seriousness with admiration and love. He performs Babur’s humour with delight and equally presents the character’s guilty turmoil with great sympathy. Opposite him, Ashok’s caring and concerned Humayun is powerful, and the two have incredible chemistry. The friendship projected onto the stage is moving, and there is a particularly touching moment where Ashok meticulously washes blood off Kuppan’s body, taking care to remove every last bit. This gentle action beautifully captures the deep love the two characters have for each other, and a scene that has the potential to be funny or awkward becomes tender with Jamie Lloyd expert direction.
Joseph’s text is a striking exploration of duty and friendship that weaves folklore and fact into an energetic 80 minutes. The characters are empathetic and complex, so there is never a dull moment, especially as both actors do well in engaging the audience and animating the minimal stage. Guards at the Taj is a great piece of work, and an excellent way to open the new and improved Bush Theatre.
Guards at the Taj is at the Bush Theatre until 20th May.