Designer Bob Bailey has transformed the Bush Theatre’s small stage into a cluttered metallic rubbish dump for its production of Simon Burt’s Bottle Universe. The pipes and slats, bars and wires suggest a tale about some apocalyptic future but in fact Burt’s piece is very much about a dark present and despite the expressionistic promise of the design the piece itself is wholly naturalistic.
In it we meet David and Lauren, two teenagers who couldn’t be more different – he’s a tough lad with a difficult home life who’s been taken out of group classes completely, while she is top of the class (her parents are toying with the idea of sending her to ‘posh school’) and bullied mercilessly. He dreams of a room in a young offenders’ institute with a telly and someone who brings your meals, she of being normal.
These two characters, whose only common ground is their status as outsiders, develop an awkward and tender friendship which begins to sustain them. But how long can they co-exist in their fragile dream world before someone or something disturbs their equilibrium?
The piece explores the nuances of this unlikely friendship and that of the relationship between them and Mr Richmond, a teacher who acts as a kind of father figure to David. Burt adeptly draws a thread between David’s mother and Lauren, and his father and Richmond. This cleverly reveals much about both sets of relationships (seen and unseen) and David’s perception of the world.
There’s a lovely performance from Jessica Harris as Lauren, gradually developing from her tears at the start and growing through her interactions with David into a stronger more capable human being.
Despite these strengths the play covers well trodden ground. It’s a coming of age drama set up north for extra grit with not enough new ideas to capture the imagination.