Bush Theatre January-February 2012
It's a Hollywood staple – newcomer, perhaps a roommate or nanny, enters a family, ostensibly to be helpful, and gradually takes over, displacing the wife, seducing the husband, and so on.
And while Nancy Harris makes some attempt to vary the formula, and her director and cast work hard to individualise the characters, Our New Girl is still too much by-the-numbers to be especially interesting or involving.
The overriding sense of deja vu and inevitability makes things slow and heavy going, and the most recurring response you'll hear from the audience is the chuckle of recognition as each cliché is ticked off.
Hazel is an overstressed mother, a former high-flying lawyer now trying to combine pregnancy, starting up a home business and coping with a troubled eight-year-old. Husband Richard is little help – he's a plastic surgeon always flying off to one war or disaster zone or another to volunteer his services.
Enter, without warning, Annie, a nanny hired by Richard without telling Hazel, and you could write at least the broad outlines of the rest of the play yourself. Annie will make herself indispensable, threatening Hazel's sense of her own role, while her comparative calm and simplicity will attract Richard.
Harris's way of ending this story might vary from the formula a bit, but her major attempt at originality is to give each of the three adults enough of a back story to flesh them out somewhat and help us understand how they got here.
Annie, for example, is not just a malevolent force but a damaged and desperately needy person hungry for Hazel's life because she can't get anything like it on her own. Hazel, who thrived on pressure earlier in her life, is uncharacteristically overwhelmed now for darker reasons which will only be made clear late in the play. And Richard, in a particularly ugly scene, is exposed as selfish and hypocritical, putting his own gratifications before even the most basic concerns for others.
Kate Fleetwood as Hazel captures the nervous intensity of a woman who suspects that much of what she is saying and doing is ill-considered, but doesn't have the reserves to consider well. But Denise Gough can't transcend our assumption that Annie is the villain, seeming to skulk malevolently around the edges of every scene, and Mark Bazeley can't hold our sense of Richard together through that deeply unsettling revelation scene.
Ultimately, though the play finally decides it wants us to sympathise most with Hazel, none of the three characters is attractive enough for us to like any of them, and director Charlotte Gwinner imbues it all with such a sense of menace that our attention is thrown back onto the horror-movie formula Harris is trying so hard to transcend.
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Review - Our New Girl - Bush Theatre 2012