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Bus Stop (Keswick)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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William Inge’s Bus Stop brings together, for a brief moment one night, a cast of characters stranded in a rural Kansas diner by a March snowstorm. Lives and loves come into focus virtually in real time, and the sap is definitely on the rise. Cowboy Bo is pursuing nightclub singer Cherie, intent on taking her off to his farm and marrying her.

Young waitress Elma is flattered by the cultured attentions of East-coast academic Dr Lyman. Diner-owner Grace is rather more interested in how handsome bus driver Carl will pass the time now he has more than a twenty minute rest stop. And watching, and sometimes taking a hand, are local sheriff Will and Bo’s friend and mentor Virgil, who stands aside as Bo and Cherie make up and light out.

Inge himself said of the play that it was a ‘composite picture of the various kinds of love, ranging from the innocent to the depraved’, and director Stefan Escreet gives us a strong ensemble performance, nicely catching the way characters in public places are worth watching even when they are not speaking. Patrick Bridgman's Virgil, in particular, says little but, we see, sees much.

Overall, the mood is determinedly upbeat. Sara Groarke's Grace and Andrew Grose's Carl seize the moment, and each other, with relish. Christopher Webster’s hyperactive Bo quickly becomes more likeable upon rejection, and Amy Ewbank's nightclub turn as Cherie, when it finally comes, is hilariously awful, definitively establishing her as a no-hoper, more suited to a ranch in the sticks with a Bo for whom she is always going to be the height of sophistication.

Robert Calvert’s seen-it-all sheriff Will summarily takes Bo down when he swings for him, but forgives, forgets, and offers fatherly advice. Rebecca Elliott’s excitable small-town teen doesn’t really mind that the scholarly Dr Lyman’s interest in her is more – or less – than it seems. Lyman is the only one who does not quite fit; in a restrained and subtle performance, Stephen Ley gives us a cultured and rootless drinker (if not drunk), whose only use for his stock of Shakespeare-by-heart is to impress the pants off small-town girls.

Ley’s performance, and that of Patrick Bridgman’s Virgil (who responds to being thrown alone out of the diner into the cold at 6am with the philosophical words ‘well, that’s what happens to some people’) suggest that inside this mostly light-hearted production there is a sadder, and wiser, play waiting to get out.

A feelgood slice of 1950s Americana, locating and exploiting the good humour in Inge’s tale of intersections, beginnings and endings.

- Stephen Longstaffe


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