Mark Hil reviews BU21 at Trafalgar Studios
BU21 follows the survivors of a terrorist attack in London and explores the ways they each cope with the aftermath. The play opens with a caustic account of how the endless misery of the evening news has rendered people disconnected and desensitised. Audiences will no doubt be familiar with the feeling that the media often walk a fine line between being informative and being exploitative. Indeed, the cynical exploitation of tragedy – whether for monetary gain or mild titillation – are woven throughout, giving the play an intelligence and insight.
At first, you could be forgiven for thinking you’re watching a confessional talking heads documentary, but as the interconnectedness of each character’s story is revealed it becomes clear that each is giving their story at a support group for survivors. It’s usually difficult to genuinely empathise with survivor accounts owing to the uniqueness and remoteness of the experience, but here accounts were delivered with such bristling intensity as to make them real. At times, Alex (Alexander Forsyth) breaks the fourth wall to great effect lending the play an amusing self-awareness.
Though the plot occasionally flirted with the boundaries of credibility, on the whole BU21 was a thoroughly compelling account. The dialogue is colourful, crisp and delivered with energy and purpose by a sextet of superbly cast well rounded characters. If the pace of BU21 ever felt a little slow, it did so in a way that allowed the narrative to develop organically.
It would be so easy for a play covering disaster to tend toward mawkish self-indulgence; something which the characters often allude to with remarkable candour. Where the play veered toward despair, the dialogue was punctuated with amusing gallows humour. What stood out, however, was the enduring humanity of the characters; whether expressed by their own fragility or in the grim pursuit of base pleasures. Though such exploitation may seem distasteful, it nonetheless highlights human resilience and survival.
BU21 plays at Trafalgar Studios until February 18th 2017
Written by Stuart Slade
Produced by Tim Johanson and Mark Cartwright
Directed by Dan Pick
Lighting by Christopher Nairne
Sound by Owen Crouch
Design by Alex Doidge-Green