As the Bush theatre moves into its new home, its old premises above the O’Neill’s pub in Shepherd’s Bush already feels like a relic from the past, preserved museum-style by interactive theatre company non zero one for this final production.
Enlisted with the weighty task of rounding off the Bush’s residency above the pub, non zero one has devised an interactive journey round the building. In a group of four, we don headphones and are guided round the premises by a disembodied voice, which cheekily encourages us to root through boxes, nose about in the dressing room and stand on the fire escape, where evidence of years of fag breaks lies scattered on the ground below. A visit to the toilets is particularly amusing.
It is as though everyone left in a rush, deserting the building yet leaving everything behind. In the cramped administration office every surface is covered with books and playscripts, post-it notes and cards. Telephones ring, and you are obliged to answer, hearing anecdotes from Bush staff when you do.
Likewise in the dressing room, shared, at close quarters, by so many actors over the years, we hear those actors speak about their experiences while sitting in the very seats they would have sat on, their make-up, cards and empty Red Bull cans strewn busily around us.
All this makes the piece highly evocative. We really do get a glimpse of what it’s like to be a performer at the Bush, to prepare backstage and then make an entrance. The disembodied voice (Justin Salinger) is at once funny and melancholy, a wistful, soothing presence on our shoulders, helping to evoke memories of when this space was full of the people that made it real.
Someone will be back to pack everything up for good, the voice tells us, but leaving the theatre at the end of the show I almost want it to remain as it is, in this ‘just-left’ state, while life for the Bush, happily, carries on down the road.