Set in a survivor’s support group, Castle Theatre Company’s ‘BU21’ is a verbatim theatre piece following the lives of six people in the aftermath of a terrorist attack in Fulham, London. As we watch them relive their experience of the attack, the play explores racial and social divisions within society, asking the audience to question the supposed unity and solidarity in times of horrific disaster. In light of recent attacks, it is a very current and sensitive issue, but one nevertheless CTC explores with justice.
Cafedral was the chosen venue for this production, dressed with fairy lights, plants and an array of lamps, it created a comforting and intimate feeling thus suiting the production very well. The stage was utterly bare, with minimalist lighting leaving the audience to focus solely on the actors’ performances before them. There were a few small A4 posters plastered on the back wall to emulate the support group environment, however I only came to notice these towards the end of the production. It seems a shame a bigger deal was not made of these, but this could be easily adjusted with larger posters and clearer text to further create the support group atmosphere.
The production did take some time to warm up. The opening was slow and, most likely due to first night nerves, some of the early punchlines were missed. As the actors settled into their characters, the performance did quickly gain momentum. The staging arguably worked well in exploring the different stories however I found that movement was rather limited and at times the play felt static, particularly earlier on in the play. The actors could have used more of the stage and there were some missed opportunities to physicalise some of the moments and really create the scene for the audience. Understandably though, BU21 is a set of monologues and it was a directorial decision in focusing on the storytelling and actors’ performances instead which I respect.
The cast demonstrated good chemistry and generally an excellent grasp of the comedy throughout, though there seemed to be a sense of ‘harrow’-ness missing from the play. The production was clearly very well-rehearsed, however in some cases this translated to some of the acting lacking naturalism and the actions being evidently directed. Florence Petrie (Izzy) occasionally fell victim to this and her character at certain points lacked conviction, though she really excelled in the more comedic aspects of the role. Jake Hathaway (Alex) as the charming banker, had understandably a difficult character to portray and despite his evident energy, the consistent breaking of the fourth wall sometimes fell awkward and flat with the audience. Special mention must be however given to Catherine Wright (Ana) whose performance was utterly stunning and left the audience hanging on to every word. Adam Evans (Graham) must also be highly commended for what was an extremely engaging performance. He commanded the stage hitting every line with an unbeatable energy, but also invoking a ‘harrow’-ness that the play was missing. Grace Longman (Floss) gave a wonderful naturalistic performance and her interactions with Mo Hafeez (Clive) were endearing and a pleasure to watch. The evidence of strength of Baker’s directing was thus revealed in some very strong performances and both the production team and cast should be praised for such.
BU21 was a well explored production of a difficult topic and difficult script handled with the right sensitivity and showcasing some very strong performances. I found myself laughing out loud throughout and enjoyed the questions the production forced us to ask. The whole production team and cast should be extremely proud of their work.
‘BU21’ is on at 8:00PM, 23rd-25th November, at the Cafédral.