Review: This Place We Know (Bush Theatre, off-site)
New plays are taking place in various locations around Shepherd's Bush while the theatre is being refurbished
While the Bush is being refurbished - it's getting a new foyer and studio space - the theatre is hitting the town. Its current season is spread around Shepherd's Bush: its shows on other local stages. This Place We Know embeds itself further into the local community – a mini-season of four plays in found spaces: school halls, churches, bars, empty flats.
To judge from these two – Kenny Emson's Terrorism and The Rest of Your Life by Barney Norris – the plays are woven into the neighbourhood. Their plots are knitted to Loftus Road and Westfield, Shepherd's Bush Green and its regeneration. (Will the Bush itself get a mention, I wonder.) They remind us that extraordinary stories take place in everyday settings. Beneath life's surface, there are secrets: affairs, extortion and who knows what else. It's a sly little reversal. The Bush has a history of putting quotidian lives on stage. Here it finds dramatic ones out in the world.
Terrorism gets its charge from its title. Its action is fairly familiar: an extramarital affair that runs its course. Daniel and Nadia are both married with kids, but they meet here, in a bare rented flat by Shepherd's Bush Green, on Mondays. Free from family life, they find happiness, excitement, honesty - escape from day-to-day routines and responsibilities, from the news stream and the world. Inevitably, it creeps back in. The affair beds in and finds its own structures, its own routines and regulations. Nadia pays the rent, so she sets the rules.
The plot's bumps are predictable, but the title changes their nature. In what way is this terrorism? You see an underground cell, hidden in plain sight; off-radar activity that could blow lives apart. Is it the fear of discovery, as Daniel's wife hovers outside, or that of the married masses, stuck in conventions keeping up appearances, too scared to grasp happiness? Those marriages, Emson suggests, motor capitalism: aspirational and provisional. Nadia wants to "put a bomb under the whole lot of it." As she warms to her freedom, this new lease of naughtiness, she edges towards new extremes.
Or maybe it's something else: this empty, unfurnished flat - their tatty, once-a-week fuckpad - might have made an affordable home. They look out of the window and see landscape gardeners remaking the Green. Eleanor Rhode's production leaves the question hanging, right zooming in on the play's personal side. Intricate writing is rewarded with intimate performances from Trevor White and Eleanor Matsuura- a real-life couple. Their ease is enticing.
Norris' piece is darker. In a gnatty karaoke bar, Nick (Waj Ali) is cashing up when a woman walks in for a last coffee. She knows more about him than a customer should: his real-name, Shareed; his drug-dealing convictions; his secret, his shame. Is she police - or something more sinister?
As with Emson's affair, these are two people hiding in plain sight; both part of an underworld that just out of view, both living under assumed identities. Hannah's an ex-cop - undercover division. While Nick's fleeing from a past he can't escape, marked by it for the rest of his life, Hannah's had to block hers out of her future forever. Both have given lives up - and not out of choice. Ali and Rakie Ayola suggest a shared simpatico beneath their steely exteriors.
Like Rhode, Miranda Cromwell keeps things tautly personal, but there's a political edge too. This, Norris suggests, is a new norm; mass surveillance, a police state, inescapable pasts. It's the way of the world now; the rest of all our lives.