Mike Bradwell completes ten years as artistic director of the Bush with a kiss: to the sub-genre of “mothers and daughters” plays that have characterised the tiny theatre for many years. In this case, Georgia Fitch’s sharp, often very funny, and obviously heartfelt play focuses on two thirty-nine year old best friends troubled by fears and woes of maternity.
The kiss of the title refers to schoolteacher Louise’s preference for a little tenderness with her morning order of fried eggs after sleeping with an indie film producer she picks up at a drunken party; we first see her gyrating like a lap dancer and collapsing into sexual free-fall.
She finds herself pregnant and two months later has an abortion, juggling the crisis, and the costs, between the hapless film man and her longtime squeeze, her married black boyfriend. Louise’s friend, Annie, has a sullen teenage daughter, Freya, who has developed a Sapphic crush on an older schoolgirl; then Annie, too, becomes pregnant, by “Prozac Pete,” and by mistake, much to the amusement of her old mother, a one-time cabaret singer with a wry, surprising line in domestic put-downs. Louise’s mother had been forced to give her up for adoption (“Well, it was the World Cup, or something”). Medea, on the whole, had fewer problems than this lot, and at least she solved them by taking decisive action.
Bradwell’s pitch perfect production has lovely performances from Michelle Butterly as the raunchy, raven-haired Louise and Heather Craney as the more restrained, circumspect Annie. Between them, they define a modern dilemma for the have-it-all generation, with the interesting variation of Louise’s working-class origins. Although the play is an obvious technical advance on Fitch’s well-received Bush debut in 2002 with adrenalin….heart (in which a white single mother and her black, drug-dealer partner flayed the corpse of their relationship over eighty minutes), the writing still seems confined by the Bush arena to sit-com sorties rather than sustained dramatic scenes.
Still, Libby Watson’s design and James Farncombe’s lighting cleverly shift the locations on a grey setting and the acting of Jade Williams as Freya, steaming resentfully behind her fringe, and Linda Broughton, breaking unexpectedly into song as Annie’s mother, is delightful. Ruairi Conaghan is all too horribly convincing as a socially conscious but personally uncouth film maker, while Andrew French is taut and controlled as the slightly underwritten father of girls who prefers them grown up. The bleak message is that having a child is not much fun, even less so if the biological clock is ticking ever louder. But Fitch’s grim comedy is also an unremittingly sad testament to the pitfalls of motherhood, something most mothers would probably question.