Writer Catherine Johnson has eclectic taste in music. Having penned the book for Abba based musical Mamma Mia! her latest piece Little Baby Nothing is named after a Manic Street Preachers hit - and opens to “Disponsable Teens” by Marilyn Manson. Other tunes included range from Jimmy Hendrix to Tatu and DJ Shadow. Johnson’s reason for naming her work after songs is superstitious - she thinks it’s lucky, and in Little Baby Nothing the charm has worked.
The action unfolds on the dilapidated roof-top terrace of a Bristolean house where Anna and her daughter El live. Anna struggles with her crappy pub job, lousy married boyfriend and Satan worshipping teen. El slouches about eating pizza, head banging and devising ways to contact her dead father with her partners in crime Joby - a slasher film addict - and Erin - a remedial bulimic. As the year progresses, and each of the ‘unholy trinity’ turn 15, they learn a little about life and each other.
Johnson’s writing is impressive. She deftly portrays her characters with keenly observed and rich dialogue. It is deceptively simple yet so convincing that in its portrayal of a myriad of social ‘issues’ -from self mutilation and peer pressure to drug addiction - we unflinchingly accept even the most dramatic turns.
Johnson and the production also succeed in transporting the viewer back to that hideous in-between time of life when you were no longer a child but not an adult and in the grip of an army of hormones. The pace of Mike Bradwell’s production is well judged, moving swiftly from delirious moshing to awkward moments where the silence stretches to eternity.
The tiny Bush space is particularly unforgiving , performers can hide little, here they have nothing to fear but their own enthusiasm and in places they are larger than the life of the naturalistic set , but it is easy to forgive the endearing young cast this minor misdemeanour. Alice O’Connell as the central character El has impressive presence in her professional stage debut. Suzan Sylvester’s bubbly mum Anna, who’s as lost as her daughter, is extremely likeable, as is Jem Wall as Craig, Anna’s timid would-be suitor.
Without moralising or making judgements about the flawed characters, Johnson and the Bush have managed to conjure a sometimes dark, sometimes hilarious, always engaging piece about the enigmatic and paradoxical nature of the mother-child relationship. Spell binding.
- Hannah Kennedy