After a series of leaks left the Bush theatre unable to turn on its stage lights, undaunted, the theatre decided to create a novel selection of plays, all of which could be staged as the natural light outside was falling. Charlotte Marshall was in the first night audience to experience theatre in the dark.
Each night during the Broken Space season, the Bush offers its audience a mixed bag of three completely different plays. Last night’s opening assortment comprised a monologue, a three scene play entitled St Petersburg, and to conclude the evening as the theatre is finally plunged into complete darkness, a ghost story. Showing in rep, each play is by a new writer who has worked with the theatre to produce something for the season.
The first play of opening night was Sea Wall, a monologue by Simon Stephens. Performed by Laurence Olivier Award-winner Andrew Scott, the outside world is bought into the intimate theatre space as the boards are removed from the windows, natural daylight helped along by stage lights cleverly fitted outside in order to stream light into the theatre. Sea Wall is a moving account of a horrific accident that caused a family’s life to be inextricably changed in a split second. Stephens’s poignant observations and Scott’s endearing character show that theatre is sometimes at its most powerful when stripped down to the absolute minimum, in this case with just one actor on an empty stage.
St Petersburg, the only play that will appear in the entire run, is the professional debut of Irish playwright Declan Feenan, and explores the interaction and relationships between John, an old man living on his own, his middle-age daughter Kate, and his 10-year-old grandson. The room now lit solely with an eclectic group of household lamps, there is an atmospheric feeling to the piece, where it is not what is said, but what is not said that feels most important, the space in between words shouting the loudest.
Desperately sad at points, St Petersburg captures the awkwardness between youth and the elderly, with the mute young boy staring out the window as John babbles on trying to prove his worth. In the second scene we see the irritation John feels as he effectively becomes the child in his relationship with his daughter; she mothers him and watches nervously as he wheezes and coughs. The final scene shows John alone, his vulnerability uncomfortable for the audience to watch as the play reaches its inevitable conclusion.
On entering the theatre for the third and final time in the evening, the floor has been replaced with damp earth, the seating gone and in the middle of the room is something that looks suspiciously like an unfinished grave. The theatre now in total darkness, Anthony Weigh’s The Flooded Grave is lit by a torch spun around sporadically to create the desired unnerving effect. A single actor addresses the audience like an unstable preacher, thanking us for coming to hear his story. This unhinged character tells us of his possessed wife and the unsavoury, frightening events that occurred to produce the grave in front of us. The result is an effective and novel piece of theatre, which evokes the same kind of creepiness you felt being told ghost stories as a child, but is sinister enough to warrant a suitable ‘for adults only’ warning.
Making the very best out of an unfortunate situation, the Bush is providing its audience with a pick-and-mix night of theatre with three very different plays each evening, each concluded with an unforgettable pitch black, chilling experience.