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While We’re Here review at the Bush Theatre, London – ‘gentle, wistful, tender’

Andrew French and Tessa Peake-Jones in While We're Here at the Bush Theatre, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton Andrew French and Tessa Peake-Jones in While We're Here at the Bush Theatre, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Barney Norris is a heartbreaker. He excels at writing minor-key stories full of regret and unvoiced longing. His new play, While We’re Here, premiering in the Bush Theatre’s smart new studio space, has a lot in common with his melancholy earlier play Eventide in this respect. It’s a deliberately gentle piece of storytelling, wistful and hopeful.

Tessa Peake-Jones and Andrew French play Carol and Eddie, two former lovers who meet one another again after years apart.

They’re both much older now, and have had their fair share of disappointments. Eddie has spent a lot of his life drifting. A product of the care system, who grew up in a place where other black faces were a rare sight, he’s spent some years living in Nigeria, and is now living in a tent. Carol invites him to stay at her place until he finds his feet; with her daughter living in Hastings, Carol’s home is empty.

The scenes between Peake-Jones and French are delicately drawn, awkward and fond. They’re both very good though she in particular captures the plays many little shifts in emotion. There’s a sense of shared history between them, a world of what-if and never-was. It’s achingly obvious they both need things from each other. There’s also an undercurrent of anger in the writing about the inadequacies of the NHS to deal with vulnerable people.

James Perkins’ living room set – with its pine bookshelves and window blinds – perfectly captures Carol’s suburban existence and while Alice Hamilton’s production suffers a little from a lack of dramatic texture, the ending is simple but wrenching.

This is a poignant and subtle piece – one designed to make you want to pick up the phone and call someone close to you, to remind them that they matter, that they’re loved.

 

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Verdict
Two old acquaintances reconnect in a subtle, tender and achingly sad two-hander
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