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The Theatreguide.London Review

Right Now
Bush Theatre   Spring 2016

This is a very weird play, and connoisseurs of very weird plays will want to add it to their collection. Others may just find it too weird to be enjoyable. 

Alice and Ben have recently moved into their new flat and appear ordinary enough. She is mourning a dead child and he is emotionally and sexually closed up, but we've seen plenty of couples worse off. 

Then they meet their neighbours, Juliette and Gilles and their adult son Francois. Or, rather, the loud, nosy and overly friendly neighbours invade.

What starts as a how-to-get-rid-of-them comedy turns darker as Juliette and Gilles prove masters of mind games and emotional manipulation, using the younger couple's weakest and most vulnerable points to control their behaviour and reshape their personalities.

I have to be careful here to not give away too much, but eventually things will be manipulated so that two of the characters literally change places and everyone is (or thinks they are) happier with the switch. 

And then, in an ending that makes a quantum leap in weirdness, either external reality is altered or everything up to then is revealed as having been the delusion/hallucination/nightmare of one of the characters. 

French Canadian playwright Catherine-Anne Toupin (here translated by Chris Campbell) is saying something about the illusion and elusiveness of identity, or perhaps about the way our emotional needs reshape our perception of reality.

Or perhaps about the price of tin in Outer Mongolia. 

Right Now the French title A Present suggests temporariness ('at the moment') rather than a hurry is sometimes working too hard to be surprising and enigmatic to be quite as clear as even an enigmatic play must be. 

And in this coproduction of the Bush, Edinburgh's Traverse and the Theatre Royal Bath, director Michael Boyd doesn't help matters very much by leading his actors, particularly the neighbouring trio, to come on too strong and bizarre from the start, leaving them nowhere to go as the play develops. 

Maureen Beattie, Guy Williams and Dyfan Dwyfor certainly bring a lot of energy to the stage, Beattie's Juliette a monster of vulgar over-friendliness, Williams's Gilles sinisterly oily and Dwyfor's Francois just plain weird.

But the darker sides of each that eventually emerge might be more disturbing if they began more quietly rather than as comic cartoons. 

Alice is the most complex and layered characterisation, though she is forced by the surprising plot twists to change so much from minute to minute that actress Lindsey Campbell can at best make each minute believable without being able to bring them together into a coherent whole. 

Ben is the most underwritten and ill-defined of the characters, and Sean Biggerstaff is even less able to make moment-to-moment work, leaving Ben as something of a blank. 

If you enjoy enigmas and plays that keep you on edge, never letting you be quite sure you understand what's going on, you may well find Right Now fascinating.

But I can't help feeling that even an enigma has to give us a little bit more to grab hold of as we try to follow it.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Right Now - Bush Theatre 2016

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