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Theatre Review: Eigengrau @ The Bush Theatre

“Eigengrau” (a noun, meaning intrinsic light – the colour seen by the eye in perfect darkness), written by Penelope Skinner and directed by Polly Findlay is a zippy fast paced gem of a play that follows two sets of 20-something flat mates and their interactions with each over the course of a couple of months.

Mark is doing well earning £80k a year in marketing. His flatmate and old Uni friend Tim isn’t adjusting quite so well to the bright lights and is unemployed and locked in an inward spiral of depression following the death of his nan. Leaving the flat or getting dressed would be a noteworthy achievement in Tim’s current world.

Across town Cassie is trying to use her fervent interest in women’s rights to nurture a career in political speech writing.  But, more pressingly, she needs to pay the rent. And her newly [via Gumtree] acquired flatmate Rose seems to have lots of excuses, lots of fanciful notions, but very little money.

Mark meets Rose in a pub and Rose brings Mark back. The play kicks off with the awkward conversation between Mark and Cassie the morning after.

The situations, which are presented with sparkling humour laced dialogue clearly resonate well with the mainly 20 something audience and the the play’s strength lies in using familiar experiences (like the awkward morning conversations with flat mate’s shags) as jump off points for exploring deeper themes, which in turn are also oddly familiar albeit somewhat exaggerated.  Maybe it’s just me, but I can see elements of all the characters in people I know in real life.

Ultimately, I see the play as being about loneliness.   Each of the characters is lonely  (some in a more obvious way than others) and is reacting to the paradoxical loneliness of city life in their own way.  In a city you may live on top of people in a shoebox flat, cram into the tube with the masses, share your bed with that nights conquest but still be emotionally cold and lonely with little emotional intimacy.  The play draws attention to that.  I also think it’s a play about Passion – or rather the search for it.  Each of the characters is looking for passion in their lives, be it personal or professional but is missing the mark when trying to find it.   People coming to a city to look for that certain “something” isn’t exactly new, but it’s nicely evoked here.

Great performances from the cast:  Geoffrey Streatfield could easily pass for a young Hugh Grant in terms of mannerisms and Alison O’Donnell particularly impressed. Given the limitations of the venue the staging and lighting were also very good.  I think the decision to keep the play moving and not have an interval was also a good one.

Geoffrey Streatfeild

A few other reviews have noted that the play doesn’t draw all it’s themes together into a bite size conclusion.  But I think that’s missing the point.  Whilst the play does offer a conclusion of sorts for characters we’ve been watching for the past 90 minutes, by that point I think it’s got the audience thinking about their own situation and their own points of reference so much that the actual characters in the play become of less interest than the thoughts the play has opened up.

The Bush is a small (intimate!) venue and stage, and the setup for this play has the audience facing each other on opposite sides of the tiny performance area. This serves to enhance the comic moments (“oh yes we can all relate to this!” people seem to say as they chortle)  yet make the uncomfortable moments where you are witnessing a characters despair all the more uncomfortable as you catch the glance of the person opposite and share a brief moment of collectively not knowing where to look.

This was my second trip to the Bush Theatre having previously seen the excellent “2nd May 1997″ there a few months ago. If these two plays are indicative of the overall general quality of output from this venue then it seems my hops over to west London are going to become more frequent.

My verdict: 4 stars out of 5
Performance attended: Friday 2nd April @ 7.30pm

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