BU21, Trafalgar Studios

by guest critic Archie Whyld

The premise of an airliner exploding over Fulham after being hit with a Russian man-portable infrared surface-to- air missile, or as intense Londoner, Graham, who was caught up in the aftermath puts it, ‘it looks you know, like a bazooka…’, in a terrorist attack is extremely compelling. Compelling, because it could happen.

The nightmarish descriptions of a jet engine bouncing down Kings Road, sun bathers being incinerated and passengers still strapped into their seats landing indiscriminately in back gardens are powerful and sobering. It’s made all the more so by the fourth wall being non-existent. The audience are part of a debate, the six survivors telling us directly their stories from the confines of their support group. The actors’ first names are used as their character names, to add to the feeling that it was really them, they were really there, and as fellow Londoners, we too experienced this most horrific of events, just like those in Paris, Brussels, New York and indeed London in July 2005.

Slade’s writing is in no way sentimental; it’s robust and allows the characters to express, ultimately, their despair. Even archetypal amoral banker Alex, played superbly by Alexander Forsyth, whose girlfriend was killed by falling debris whilst in bed with his best friend, seems to be disguising his pain with brutal, self-serving vulgarity. He describes the support group as a ‘Target-rich environment, man, the seriously traumatised. Mental’. Floss, played by Florence Roberts, is there because one of the airline chairs landed in her garden. The man strapped to the chair, was still alive, albeit briefly. Roberts encapsulates the modern educated, middle-class way of expressing truth through a dark, wry, ironic humour. Graham has eyes for burns victim Ana; she finds him repugnant. Clive meets Floss. It was his father in the chair. Izzy is there because her mum was killed by the aforementioned bouncing engine outside Space NK on Kings Road. She found out on twitter. The survivors’ stories interweave, they share their pain with great courage, they are attracted to one another, repelled, disgusted, in essence their behaviour is utterly human, being performed with intensity, sensitivity and pathos.

Dan Pick’s direction is slick, minimalist and effective. There is great precision, especially with use of chairs, which signify much more than their original function. And along with Christopher Nairne’s flickering strip fluorescent lighting design and Owen Crouch’s low, humming, omnipresent sound design, the atmosphere has a dread and sickness, but also fortitude, stoicism and resilience.

BU21 runs through 18 February.

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