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Forget Me Not review at the Bush Theatre, London – ‘bafflingly stilted’

Eleanor Bron and Russell Floyd in Forget Me Not at the Bush Theatre, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton Eleanor Bron and Russell Floyd in Forget Me Not at the Bush Theatre, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Tom Holloway’s play contains the bones of a fascinating story, but it buries them deep and then throws a few more shovelfuls of earth on top for good measure. It’s an account of how British ‘orphans’, often the children of poverty, were removed from their homes between the 1940s and 1960s and deported to Australia, in many cases to a life far harder than the one they were leaving behind. It’s a story that is still shocking and disturbing, but its potency is eroded by a bafflingly stilted production.

Originally produced at the Belvoir, Sydney, in 2013, it opens with an intriguing scene in which a middle-aged man finally gets to meet the elderly Liverpudlian mother who gave him up as a child. It’s a play of inarticulacy, of people who – reasonably – don’t have the right words to say to one another, but Steven Atkinson’s production, with its grating, repetitive music, never finds a way of making it come to life.

In fact it’s positively vampiric, sucking the energy out of the writing. That’s not helped by a narrative twist that cheapens the emotional arc of the play and some really odd directorial choices. The sentient armchairs, gliding on and off the stage, are unintentionally amusing and a brief burst of Queen on the soundtrack just gives the impression that someone has pressed the wrong button on the tech desk. Eleanor Bron does her best with the material, and her performance is amiable and tender, but it’s nowhere near enough to rescue this from itself.

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Inert, stilted production that saps the life out of a fascinating story