Like A Fishbone
Bush Theatre Summer 2010
Anthony Weigh's new play is about different forms of grieving, about religious faith or nonbelief, about life choices for women, and about the role and function of architecture.
If these various strands don't always feel comfortable in the same play, they are all individually thought- or emotion-inspiring.
A madman with a gun killed the children in a village schoolhouse, and a female architect has been charged with creating a memorial.
After proper consultation with the community she has chosen a stark design that forces viewers to recognise and be unable to forget the tragedy, but now she is accosted by one grieving mother who demands a more uplifting and religious monument.
The mother (who is, for no absolutely clear reason, blind) is deeply religious and conservative, antagonistic not only to the design but to the architect's secularism and even to her choice of a career over domesticity.
The architect in turn varies between annoyance at this interruption, patronisation of this simple provincial, and disdain for her religiosity.
And so the debates between them, repeatedly switching between the theoretical and the personal, are always good, and the playwright guides us to see the right and wrong on each side without allowing us too-easy preferences.
(A third figure, an intern in the architect's firm, is there just to help move the action along and to make an out-of-character speech near the end suggesting a third position, that form follows function and architecture should not be thought of as carrying any meaning beyond its utility.)
The only criticism to make of the play is that it does seem at times a jumble of three or four separate arguments. The proposed memorial may be the occasion for these other issues to be addressed, but it is not a successful metaphor for them - as the intern suggests, it doesn't carry enough meaning in itself to resonate and embrace the other themes of the drama.
As directed by Josie Rourke, both central characters are presented in all their sometimes self-contradictory complexity.
Sarah Smart accomplishes the difficult task of making it clear that the mother is barking mad while still establishing the reality of her pain and her faith, and retaining some sympathy for her.
Deborah Findlay gives the architect all the reasonable rightness in the debates while exposing the prejudices and feeling of superiority that gradually begin to undercut her position.
Only Phoebe Waller-Bridge has been directed to play the intern as a clichéd airhead, making it difficult to believe she'd get the job or be capable of her last-minute burst of wisdom.
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Review of Like A Fishbone - Bush Theatre 2010