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Forget Me Not (Bush Theatre)

Tom Holloway's new play follows a child migrant returning from Australia

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Russell Floyd and Sarah Ridgeway in Forget Me Not
© Helen Murray

Australian Tom Holloway's play about a child migrant returning from Oz to Liverpool in his sixties to investigate his past is a good example of social issue theatre that operates as drama only by the drip-drip release of withheld information.

It's not a fraud, exactly, but it's a cheap sort of tease, gussied up in Steve Atkinson's HighTide production (the play was originally a co-commission by the Belvoir in Sydney and the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse) with a stark, classical rectangular frame which descends at moments of emotional crisis, and a sound loop of the Handel "D-minor Sarabande", a piece so beautiful, sorrowful and grandiloquent that only a work of art as magnificent as Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon can fairly lay claim to it as a soundtrack.

Here, you feel the music, and indeed the Ivo van Hove staging homage (though the actors do at least keep their socks on) is, well, a bit much. And there's no control over the Handel mix or the dynamics of the piece, with two clumsily engineered finales in quick succession before the interval.

The play is worthily devised in the shadow of the child migrant "scandal" which led to Gordon Brown apologising in 2010 for Britain's part in it. Gerry (Russell Floyd in lumberjack shirt and boots) was put, not on a ferry cross the Mersey, like his namesake with the Pacemakers, but on a boat to Melbourne where he became a farmhand, labourer and an abusive alcoholic. He returns with his daughter Sally (delightful Sarah Ridgeway) to Stanley Park, where he is taking tea with a sharp-witted, neighbourly Mary (luminous Eleanor Bron, and how lovely to see her on stage again).

The circumstances of how and why these children were, in effect, deported, were varied, but Gerry was in the least uncommon category of the unwanted child of a disgraced 1950s single mother. It's either tragic, or banal, depending on your mood - mine, I have to say, swerved about a bit during the two long hours - that Gerry's such a total waste of space.

Floyd tries to make him interesting, and he's most successful in a rather good scene where Ridgeway's Sal takes him to the cleaners' big time. It's painful in a good way to listen to her tirade of despair and helplessness over his self-destruct button-pushing. She at least finds succour in the arms (literally) of Mark (Sargon Yelda, smoothly amenable) who is trying to help Gerry with a travel restoration programme.

Everything in the exposure of the story is out of chronological order but not effectively so. The second act reveal is particularly badly handled, with some corny offstage mutterings and another backfired info bullet as a stash of letters suddenly comes to light, too late. Poor old Gerry has become a victim not so much of a discredited migration policy as of splattered dramaturgy and pretentious direction.

Forget Me Not runs at the Bush Theatre until 16 January.