If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet
Bush Theatre Autumn 2009
Nick Payne's new play tells a story of almost banal ordinariness, but some clever writing and fine direction and performances go a long way toward making it seem fresh.
A chubby teenager is bullied in school and all but ignored by her lost-in-his-own-work father and problems-of-her-own mother, so that the only person she can turn to is her black-sheep uncle, who means well but is too irresponsible and incompetent to be of much use.
Things get bad and then, in the manner of adolescence, get somewhat better, as everyone more-or-less makes do and carries on.
Rather than trying to deny the clichés in the script, director Josie Rourke embraces them. Lucy Osborne's jigsaw puzzle set has a cartoon quality to it, and the director has encouraged and guided her actors to broad but cleverly constructed performances that raise their stereotypes to pure essences.
The father is a university lecturer obsessed with climate change, and Michael Begley gives him the whining rhythms of one in love with the music of his own voice, but only at the lectern, while in private he has trouble stringing words together into coherent sentences.
(This is, of course, both funny in itself and an indication of his inability to make the personal connections of husband and father.)
Rafe Spall is equally comic as the uncle who can only occasionally rouse himself from the masochistic contemplation of his own troubles to acknowledge the existence of another, but who finds himself trying to do that more and more - usually unsuccessfully - with his niece.
Pandora Colin makes the mother less of a cartoon, though the woman is likely to let her attention drift from the troubled girl before her toward, say, a consideration of the feminist semiology of netball.
As written, the girl at the centre of all this is more a device to stimulate the responses of the others than a real character, but Ailish O'Connor makes us sense a soul, and more importantly a mind, inside her, someone who is trying to think and feel her way through adolescence.
It is a small play, and ultimately doesn't have a lot to tell us, but the production and performances make the visit to familiar territory a pleasant one.
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Review of If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet - Bush Theatre 2009