Straight At The Bush Theatre

Beautifully performed and directed but not a lot that's new, says reviewer Liz Vercoe

Related link

Riveting River Pranks at the Bush Theatre

Snookered at the Bush Theatre


Bush Theatre

Register for the Shepherd's Bush Newsletter

Get the Hammersmith newsletter

Register for the Fulham Newsletter

Uh, oh, family-friendly-website alert. There’s a sign at the box office for this new arrival from the Sheffield Crucible theatre saying scenes of a sexual nature, strong language and smoking!

But no this is not a period piece from the 50s or 60s à la The Hour or Madmen but a contemporary take on that age-old conundrum, when have you lived life sufficiently to “settle down”? It’s based on the 2009 comedy movie Humpday by Lynn Shelton but has been neatly compacted for the English stage by award-winning writer DC Moore.

Lewis and Morgan, played by Henry Pettigrew and Jessica Ransom, ( pictured above) are the 30-something married couple living in a studio flat that’s no longer worth what they paid for it. Intelligent, sparky and in love, they’d like to start their family. The dialogue crackles and snaps as these two excellent actors joke and parry and deal with the only real bane of their life, a bathroom that lacks the audible and olfactory privacy that Lewis, in particular, requires.

But then their lives are penetrated by a blast from the past in the shape of Waldorf, played by Philip McGinley, Lewis’s university chum who’s been having a gap seven years.

Well not actually the shape of Waldorf, but rather Waldorf’s penis waggling through the letter-box. I’m not sure what the traditional stage direction for this might be, “enter, up stage, right!”?, but it is as shocking as being flashed in the street for both Morgan and the audience.

Philip McGinley’s Waldorf is beautifully written and portrayed. Every generation has these characters. These are the perpetual flibbertigibbets who use the excuse of “seeing the world and seeking the truth” to never settle down or accumulate possessions. They are funny, attractive, rule breakers that more straightforward human beings can end up envying and supporting. And where there are insecurities they make them itch like unhealed wounds.

And so Waldorf and his gorgeous, skunk-smoking pick up Steph, played by Jenny Rainsford, set sexually continent and cautious Lewis scratching, by suggesting it would be fun to make a “nice” porn film for like-minded “artists”. It’s good to see two such well-written roles for women as grounded Morgan and wild-child Steph.

There is a line in the second act, set in a sumptuous hotel bedroom, where Lewis tells Waldorf that gay men like to watch heterosexual men overcoming their sexual inhibitions which makes sense of this play. For without it, Straight doesn’t add masses to the subject of the effects of repressed feelings.

It won’t be to everyone’s taste. The intimacy of live theatre means it’s easier to embarrass your audience with far, far less than you’ll see on mainstream TV. But Richard Wilson’s direction, yes he of recent Merlin fame, is invisibly consummate.

He skillfully tightens the screw on the audience’s feelings about what they are about to witness in the second act – presumably ranging from squeamishness to hope, depending on the person – and then, like the old wizard he is, he structures a touching revelation about who feels what about whom and whose heart is actually breaking.

Straight runs until December 22nd.

Bush Theatre Box Office 020 8743 5050

November 30, 2012