BU21BU21 at Theatre 503

25th March, 2016

‘Nothing prepares you for how f***ing fierce it is’


It’s 22nd July 2016 when a BU21 aircraft, coming from New York, gets hit by a surface-to-air missile in a suspected terrorist attack, before crashing into Parsons Green, a residential area in south London.  Stuart Slade’s play explores how six young Londoners will cope with the aftermath after being differently involved. How would each and every one of us deal with such a horror? We all now live under the daily shadow of suicide bombs, mass shootings, genocides, drone strikes, school massacres and there is a resulting trauma and emotional wreckage. The conceit of a survivors’ group is a way of incorporating the words of ‘real’ people, as spoken in private interview or public record, into a riveting verbatim drama.

The Survivors’ group is composed of six interwoven monologues.   Each person alternates their position centre stage when it is their turn to share their painful memories through a spontaneous stream of consciousness which at times becomes a theatrical joyride of humour and darkest feelings or deepest thoughts. Each survivor’s tales unfolds piecemeal over the course of the play. Gradually the audience comes to know more about the ramifications of the attack, and the deep psychological scars left on all of the characters.

Yet, there is no political correctness here. Stuart Slade’s intelligent writing is blunt and bleakly observed and the cast deliver with immediacy, such grim topicality.

Amongst the stories of those directly affected are also the narratives of those indirectly involved. Each character finds a course through the madness. All the characters are named after the actors – underlining the point that their fate that day could be anyone’s.  Graham, a lorry driver (Graham O’Mara) supplies us with the obligatory heartfelt declaration of Londoners standing steadfast in solidarity – all a sham in fact as he uses the fallout from the attack to his own advantage, as he becomes a successful media icon, having been mistaken for a hero We get a healthy dose of love-against-the-odds with Floss (Florence Roberts) of the west London intelligentsia.  She is distracted by nightmares and visions but, unexpectedly, gets a chance to confront them and moves on. There is also Clive (Clive Keene), the son of a Pakistani immigrant, who reminds us that in tragedies like this, communities are drawn together, but then some people, like Muslims, also come under suspicion. Roxana Lupu invests wheelchair-bound,  Ana, with a raw insight into the physical injuries she can heal from and the mental suffering that she just can’t. Thalissa’s anger is tangible as she reports her mother suffering the indignity of being struck by the aircraft’s engine as it landed in the King’s Road, Chelsea, ‘Like God was out to get her.’  Best of all, Alex Forsyth is brilliant as an amoral banker, the villain of the piece by virtue of his ability to say the unsayable. He is never off the main chance and one whose brutal charm draws us via the fourth wall so reluctantly into his world with its twisted but irrefutable logic. Alex (whose girlfriend and best friend died in flagrante) suggests that destruction in Fulham didn’t garner great sympathy: ‘In a posh area, people find it a tiny bit secretly hilarious’.

A simple blackout out and we count the 22 seconds it takes to fall from 4,500ft. A shared experience of tragedy.

Dan Pick’s production nails the need that we have to laugh, to cry, in order to process, to rationalise, to keep on living the lives that have to continue. it’s hard not to think of 9/11,  7/7 but equally the mind is drawn to the Paris attacks and the way in which Twitter hashtags and Facebook icons satisfy the need to be seen to be doing something, how social media has warped the way we reconcile ourselves with such news, to be even part of it. Yes it is the one-and-a-half-hour misery porn as Alex declares, but this is verbatim theatre at its best as it can offer a source of relatively uncontaminated truth.