Here is an oddity to challenge all notions of authenticity in the theatre and take the “verbatim” craze to a new frontier of some sort. In Cruising at the Bush Theatre, a short, sweet look at love and sex among senior citizens, the five actors wear earphones throughout and reproduce the exact words, inflections, coughs and splutters of real life interviewees.
I can’t imagine how this works, for the actors must surely be reproducing something in their own voices while the recorded voices have moved on. And what, anyway, is the virtue of exact reproduction when theatre, in the language department, is an art of refinement and rhythm?
Alan Bennett jots down phrases in tea-shops and bus shelters, but then turns them into something else. Mike Leigh, improvising with the characters devised by his actors, finally orchestrates a script to create an impression of spontaneity.
Recorded Delivery is a new company based at the Actors Centre in Covent Garden where the director Mark Wing-Davey has introduced a technique he learned while working with the monologuist Anna Deavere Smith in New York. The difference is that Deavere Smith discards the earphones at the final rehearsal.
The first fruit of this work here was Come Out Eli at the Arcola in late 2003 (revived at the BAC in early 2004), a piece devised in situ at the Hackney siege of Christmas 2002, where a gunman held a neighbour hostage in his flat and disrupted an entire community.
You can see the technique having a sort of grainy realist effect in such circumstances. Cruising is a gentle, sedate piece that would benefit from tightening in Matthew Dunster’s direction, and from a more focused performance. Miranda Hart is fitfully funny as the sad sack Maureen with a surprising libido whose loneliness in widowhood is contrasted – not all that tellingly – with the wedding of a friend, Margaret (Claire Lichie), to the rather boringly eager-to-please Geoff (Ian Dunn) from Shrewsbury.
The characters are in Leominster, Herefordshire, though they don’t sound much like people from that area, which must scupper the whole point of the exercise. They sound more vaguely Midlands, with Jason Barnett, a good black actor, doubling unconvincingly as an unctuous priest and an old boy whose refreshing frankness about a sexual encounter topples over into tasteless excess.
There are some sharper little cameos from the writer Alecky Blythe, founder and artistic director of Recorded Delivery, and a lovely foxtrot for the happy couple that seems to go on for ever. Luckily the play doesn’t, ending after seventy-five meagre minutes and suggesting a good first draft rather than a finished product.
- Michael Coveney